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Former Russian oil tycoon guilty over theft and money laundering

A judge declared former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of theft and money laundering charges in his second trial yesterday.

The verdict is likely to keep Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, behind bars for several more years.

Interfax and ITAR-Tass reported that the judge found Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebede guilty. Reading the full verdict and announcing the sentence is expected to take several days.

Khodorkovsky is nearing the end of an eight-year sentence after being convicted of tax fraud in a case seen as punishment for challenging Kremlin power. The conviction on charges of stealing all the oil his company produced between 1998 and 2003 and laundering the proceeds could keep him behind bars until at least 2017.

Vladimir Putin, who was president during Khodorkovsky's first trial and is now prime minister, has shown no sign of softening his attitude towards Khodorkovsky. Mr Putin said that Khodorkovsky was a criminal and “should sit in jail”, a statement denounced as interference in the trial.

Mr Putin has not ruled out a return to the presidency in 2012 and critics suspect him of wanting to keep Khodorkovsky incarcerated until after that election.

Numerous witnesses, including current and former government officials, testified during the trial that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were improbable if not absurd.

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