[JURIST] Defense lawyers for former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Friday sought to have new charges [JURIST report] of embezzlement and money laundering against Khordorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] dropped. The two men are accused of illegally taking approximately $20 billion from Russian energy firm OAO Yukos Oil Co. [TIME backgrounder], but challenged the allegations, asserting that the evidence against them was insufficient [RIA Novosti report] to sustain the prosecution. Their trial on the charges began on Wednesday [JURIST report] and their latest request comes one day after Judge Viktor Danilkin refused to recuse himself [St. Petersburg Times report] from the case amid accusations of bias. If found guilty, Khodorkovsky could face 22 years in jail in addition to the eight years he is already serving for fraud and tax evasion.
Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition of former Russian president Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive]. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered [JURIST report] two weeks ago by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky still maintains that his 2005 conviction [JURIST report] on the fraud and tax evasion was unjust, and maintains his innocence. He requested early release from that sentence last July, but his application was rejected [JURIST reports] in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony [Guardian backgrounder], refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed [JURIST report] that decision.