Tycoon’s trial ‘partly political’

A senior Russian government minister has told the BBC that political reasons have played a role in the prosecution of the country’s wealthiest man.

Economy Minister German Gref said the case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky had “a certain political element”.

The trial of the oil billionaire, who is charged with tax evasion and fraud, will restart on 12 July.

Mr Khodorkovsky had been funding political groups opposed to President Vladimir Putin.

The case has disturbed foreign investors worried about state interference in the legal process.

The BBC’s Jonathan Charles in Moscow says the Russian government has now admitted what many of its critics have long been alleging.

Mr Gref told the BBC that Mr Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos had been involved in “political activities”.

The minister indicated he saw this as disloyal to Mr Putin and that Mr Khodorkovsky had then made himself an easy target by allegedly trying to evade taxes and to commit fraud.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who is estimated to be worth about $15bn, made his money in the 1990s by buying up oil reserves and other assets sold off by the Russian state after the collapse of communism.

Our correspondent says many foreign investors are watching the trial closely.

He says they are worried it may be the start of a campaign by the government to renationalise assets, some of them foreign-owned, which it believes were given away far too cheaply.

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