Posted Wednesday, November 12, 2003

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London, November 12, 2003

Police raid Sörös office as oil billionaire is refused bail

From Clem Cecil in Moscow


KhodorskyAFTER pouring billions into Russia over the past 15 years, George Sörös's Open Society foundation in Moscow has been raided in what could be the latest step in the investigation against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oil billionaire.

Mr Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos, the Russian oil giant, was denied bail yesterday. He was also denied permission to attend the closed session in Basmanny Court, Moscow, which rejected his application.

The court ruled at the beginning of the session that it should be closed on the ground that the accused could use an open session to "establish contact with his accomplices", who would in turn "place pressure on those taking part in the court process".

Mr Khodorkovsky's testimony was beamed into the courtroom via a television satellite from a small cell in Matrosskaya Tishina, the Moscow prison where he has been incarcerated since his arrest on October 25. He was dressed in a thick sweater, hunched against the cold of the prison. He is accused on seven counts of large-scale theft and tax evasion. Mr Khodorkovksy is to remain in prison until December 30.

Critics of President Putin say that he is applying Russian law selectively to remove political competition in the run-up to the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections. Mr Khodorkovsky, who made his billions in privatisation deals in the 1990s, has financed several political parties and dropped hints that he would like to run for president.

The State appeared to be pursuing evidence against Mr Khodorkovsky in the forced entry into Mr Sörös's foundation in Moscow. More than 40 armed men made a surprise raid on the building in central Moscow late last Thursday, shutting many staff in their offices and removing all the files and computers.

George SorosApparently, the raid was ordered by the company that owns the building in order to settle a rent dispute. However, Mr Sörös (left) was rumoured to be a significant shareholder in Yukos and to have invested in its daughter companies. A source close to Mr Sörös's business interests in Russia said: "Why would law enforcement officials seize computers and files if it was a simple real estate issue?" The source said that authorities could have accessed "information about the structure of the Yukos's offshore company structures," in the files.

The raid happened a few days after Mr Sörös criticised the arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky in a newspaper owned by the Russian tycoon.



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