Russian prosecutors say they have carried out searches of companies tied to the former Yukos oil empire, on suspicion of possible embezzlement and money laundering by the firm's employees.

In a statement Wednesday, the prosecutor general's office said that some Yukos employees, whom it did not name, may have sent company funds to so-called "front" companies abroad.

That announcement comes five months after a Moscow court sentenced former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky to nine years in prison on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Critics of President Vladimir Putin call the Khodorkovsky prosecution and imprisonment retaliation for the oil tycoon's support of Russia's political opposition, a charge Kremlin authorities deny.

A court recently rejected Mr. Khodorkovsky's appeal, but reduced his prison term by one year.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.