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Moscow Court Considers Fate of Ex-Yukos Chief - 2003-12-23

A Moscow court could decide Tuesday whether to keep Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail for another three months. The court had been expected to make a decision Monday, but proceedings were adjourned until today.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who stepped down as the chairman of Yukos Oil after his arrest October 25th, is being held under a detention order that expires December 30. Prosecutors are asking for permission to keep him in jail until at least March 25.

No trial date has been set for Mr. Khodorkovsky, but the case, when it comes, is likely to be prolonged and complicated.

Details of the case have not been disclosed, but prosecutors say they intend to show that Mr. Khodorkovsky, while in command of Yukos, evaded taxes and committed fraud, forgery, embezzlement and other offenses. He is said to face up to 10 years in prison.

President Vladimir Putin, who is heavily favored to win a second term in office, has said he has not been involved in the Khodorkovsky case directly. However, he says businessmen who violated Russian laws during the turbulent decade that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union must face the consequences.

Mr. Khodorkovsky's supporters say the Kremlin targeted the 40-year-old executive for prosecution because he provided financial backing for opposition political parties, and to smother his political ambitions.

Mr. Khodorkovsky has been in custody since Russian special forces boarded his private plane and seized him in the city of Novosibirsk.