[JURIST] Former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday took the stand at his trial and called for the case against him to be dismissed for lack of evidence. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are charged with embezzling [JURIST report] USD $25 billion worth of oil produced by their Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company. Defense lawyers for Khodorkovsky contend that prosecutors have no evidence to support the charges and that they have failed to show how the men could have embezzled the profits but continued covering company expenses and expanding oil production. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip Yukos of valuable assets. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the current charges, and they face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted.
Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive]. Last month Khodorkovsky criticized [text, in Russian; JURIST report] Russia's justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. The statement echoed concerns Khodorkovsky had previously expressed about the fairness of Russian trials and the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].