Russia tycoon 'convicted of theft'

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky is escorted to a courtroom in Moscow (AP)

A judge has declared former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of theft and money laundering charges in his second trial, Russian news agencies have reported.

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 said in the opening pages of his verdict that Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev had been found 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 Yukos 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 the former oligarch.

Mr Putin said earlier this month that Khodorkovsky was a proven 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 20-month trial that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were improbable if not absurd.

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