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    Jailed Yukos officials challenge investigators in new case-1

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    MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti) - The jailed Yukos founder and his associate have challenged investigators in the case of their alleged involvement in money laundering, their lawyers said Wednesday.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, both serving eight-year sentences in Siberia for fraud and tax evasion since 2005, were taken to a pre-trial detention facility in the regional center of Chita in eastern Siberia, where they were expected to face new money laundering charges in connection with Yukos subsidiaries Fargoil and Ratibor, but no charges followed, Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yury Shmidt told by phone earlier in the day.

    Khodorkovsky was questioned by prosecutors Wednesday as a suspect in a new criminal case under the Article 174.1 of the Russian Penal Code (money laundering), according to Shmidt's statement on the Khodorkovsky's Web site.

    Shmidt said prosecutors brought the same charges against his client while investigating the first case on the now-bankrupt oil company.

    "We heard nothing new today," he said, adding that Khodorkovsky has challenged the investigating team.

    Lebedev's lawyer said his client refused to give evidence Wednesday and also challenged the team of investigators, as it took part in the first case.

    "Lebedev has refused to give evidence as a suspect because the investigating team was part of the first Yukos case," Yevgeny Baru said. "Therefore he suggests the investigators cannot be unbiased in a new case."

    Investigators earlier said the ex-Yukos officials had masterminded a scheme to sell crude oil through two trading companies under their control, Fargoil and Ratibor, acting both as fictitious owners and buyers, and laundered money through a charity, established by Khodorkovsky.

    Prosecutors also said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had been using Open Russia non-governmental organization as a money laundering operation.

    In March, the Moscow Basmanny Court ordered to freeze $5.5 million on Open Russia's accounts at Moscow-based National Bank and 200,000 rubles ($7,300) on the charity's accounts, following a request from the Prosecutor General's Office.

    In May 2005, the Moscow Meshchansky Court found Khodorkovsky and Lebedev guilty of tax evasion and grand fraud, and sentenced both to nine years in prison, a term that was later reduced to eight years.

    Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said earlier that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, both 43, may face new charges if there is sufficient evidence.

    Khodorkovsky is serving his sentence in the town of Krasnokamensk in the Chita Region, and Lebedev is at a colony in the Arctic region of Yamalo-Nenets.

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