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Russia tycoon held on fraud charge

Khodorkovsky is one of the richest men in Russia.
Khodorkovsky is one of the richest men in Russia.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A Russian court has ordered oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be held in prison after he was charged with a $1 billion fraud and tax evasion, a spokeswoman for the Russian general prosecutor told CNN.

In a statement, the Yokos oil company, which Khodorkovsky heads, called the charges "absurd," "humiliating for the Russian legal system" and "a politically motivated affair."

"Yukos considers all allegations absurd," the statement said Saturday. "Khodorkovsky was the first to put ethics of business and reputation on the same level with efficiency and growth."

The statement said Yukos' customers "should not worry about heating when the winter comes because the company "will continue to fulfill its obligations.

"The company thinks it is humiliating for the Russian legal system," the statement said. "We have no doubts about a final victory in this war.

"We consider this whole thing as a politically motivated affair," it said.

Prosecutors, who had pressed seven charges against Khodorkovsky after securing his return to Moscow from Siberia, had requested that he be kept in detention.

Earlier Saturday, Yukos oil company press secretary Alexander Shadrin told CNN that its chief executive had been detained late Friday in Siberia on charges that he ignored a summons sent to the company a day before.

Armed federal security service agents -- dressed in black camouflage and black masks -- surrounded the oil chief's plane when it stopped for refueling in the city of Novosibirsk, Shadrin said, demanding that Khodorkovsky come with them.

Khodorkovsky was then flown to Moscow where prosecutors questioned him without his lawyer present, Shadrin said.

The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian general prosecutor's office charged that Khodorkovsky ignored a summons to be questioned as part of an ongoing investigation into Yukos and its affiliates.

The Yukos press secretary confirmed receipt of the summons on Thursday but said the company informed prosecutors Khodorkovsky was on a business trip and would not be available until Monday.

Shardin said any charges that he was ignoring the summons "are a lie."

The investigation into Yukos began last July with the arrest of a major shareholder. Since then, other officials of the company or its affiliates have been questioned or charged with a variety of offenses, from fraud to tax evasion to murder.

Many observers in Moscow believe the investigation is politically motivated since Khodorkovsky -- one of Russia's richest men -- has supported liberal opposition political parties.

-- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report


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