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Russian Investigators Raid Homes of Kremlin Foe's Employees

FILE - Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, speaks during a webcast conference in London, and is seen on a TV screen in Open Russia movement office in Moscow, Dec. 9, 2015.

In the latest legal onslaught on exiled Kremlin critic and ex-billionaire Russian Mikhail Khodorkovsky, investigators on Tuesday searched homes of several employees of his charity foundation in connection with a privatization deal dating back more than 20 years ago.

Investigators earlier this month accused Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in prison before being pardoned in 2013, of involvement in the 1998 killing of a Siberian mayor. Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky has dismissed the accusations and ramped up his anti-government rhetoric, accusing President Vladimir Putin of flouting the Russian constitution and leading the country to ruin.

Open Russia, Khodorkovsky's charity foundation, said its employees' homes were raided in the early hours on Tuesday in connection with a 2003 criminal case which led to Khodorkovsky's conviction in 2005. Homes of at least seven employees were searched, Open Russia's lawyer Sergei Badamshin said on Twitter. The case originally centered on a 1993 privatization of fertilizer company.

Russia's chief investigative body confirmed the reports.

Khodorkovsky, 52, spent 10 years in prison on tax evasion and embezzlement charges widely seen as punishment for challenging Putin's power. He was pardoned and released in December 2013, shortly before the Winter Games in Sochi.

Since then, Khodorkovsky has continued to oppose the Kremlin from exile in Europe.

Khodorkovsky dismissed the pre-dawn raids as retribution for his political activities. None of the Open Russia employees whose homes were searched worked for him in 1993, he said.

"Some of them were children in 1993," Khodorkovsky said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio. "Everyone who works for Open Russia has been perfectly aware from the start that this kind of pressure is not only possible but inevitable."

Open Russia has been involved in educational projects as well as helping independent media and families of political prisoners.