Russian tycoon Khodorkovsky slashed in prison assault

Jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been hospitalized after another prisoner slashed him in the face while he slept, his lawyer said Saturday.

The attorney, Yury Schmidt, told The Associated Press that Khodorkovsky had been assaulted by another prisoner with a sharp object sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning.

The billionaire tycoon, once Russia's richest man, required stitches and was recovering in the infirmary wing of the prison camp in Krasnokamensk, Schmidt said.

He also accused prison authorities of trying to cover up the incident, although another lawyer reportedly said Khodorkovsky declined to file a complaint because he believed the attacker was not in full possession of his senses.

Khodorkovsky, imprisoned since October, is serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion and fraud in a Siberian prison camp. His Yukos oil empire was carved up by the state.

In a separate statement posted on Khodorkovsky's Web site, Schmidt said his client woke up in the middle of the night with his face covered in blood.

The Federal Prison Service, played down the incident, saying its preliminary information was that Khodorkovsky suffered scratches to his nose while arguing with a fellow convict, according to Russian news agencies.

"An inquiry is under way. Khodorkovsky did not suffer any penetrating wounds, he just had a scratch on his nose. His health is not in danger," the penal service's director Yury Kalinin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Another Khodorkovsky lawyer, Natalya Terekhova, said her client had been stabbed in the left nostril, the Gazeta.ru news Web site reported.

Terekhova, who practices in the Siberian region of Chita where the prison is located and is due to meet Khodorkovsky on Monday, said the assailant was a 23-year-old cellmate called Kuchma who was now being held in solitary confinement, according to Gazeta.ru.

The aim was not to kill Khodorkovsky but probably to disfigure him, Gazeta.ru quoted his lawyers as saying.

Khodorkovsky declined to submit a complaint because he believed Kuchma was not in full possession of his senses, Terekhova was quoted as saying by Gazeta.ru.

Schmidt said it would be unfair to expect his client to break the prisoners' code by informing on a fellow inmate, but argued that prison authorities had enough information to open a criminal case into the assault.

He said the refusal to do so showed "that, contrary to official assurances, Khodorkovsky has fewer rights than other ordinary prisoners and he is being singled out."

"Khodorkovsky's defense team has no illusions about the real organizers of this crime and is determined in accordance with the law to obtain all the details of what happened," he said.

Khodorkovsky, 42, was convicted in May 2005 after a trial seen as punishment for his political ambitions and part of a state drive for control of the crucial oil industry.

The largest unit of Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil empire was effectively nationalized to pay off billions of dollars in back taxes in December 2004, and the remaining assets of what was once Russia's top oil producer are expected to be sold off this year. , reports AP.

O.Ch.