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    Russian trade minister testifies for Khodorkovsky

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    The Russian Trade Minister on Tuesday told the court hearing a case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky that he knows nothing about the theft of millions of tons of oil, of which the former tycoon is accused

    The Russian trade minister on Tuesday told the court hearing a case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky that he knows nothing about the theft of millions of tons of oil, of which the former tycoon is accused.

    "Physical theft of oil has been and still remains a problem. It is done by cutting into the oil pipeline. But I've never heard of millions of tons of oil being stolen," Viktor Khristenko said.

    The minister, who was responsible for the Russian fuel and energy sector between 1999 and 2008 when he was deputy chairman of the government, was summoned as a witness to the new hearings against Khodorkovsky.

    Khodorkovsky is already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion. He is now accused of stealing $9.6 billion from the $15.8 billion profit generated by Yukos between 1999 and 2003, as well as 350 million tons of oil.

    Russia's former economics and trade minister and current Head of Sberbank German Gref, told the court on June 21 that he had also been unaware of the theft of 350 million tons of oil.

    "It was not my duty to check, but if it [the theft] had been detected, I would have been informed," Gref said.

    Other high profile witnesses include former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Central Bank Chief Viktor Gerashchenko.

    Kasyanov said in May that the new charges against Khodorkovsky were ludicrous and politically motivated, and that Putin's reaction "created the impression that the powers that be were exerting pressure on business."

    Russian officials have consistently denied any political motivation behind their convictions.

    MOSCOW, June 22 (RIA Novosti)

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