Mikhail Khodorkovsky questioned as suspect in new criminal inquiry

Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was questioned Wednesday as a suspect in a new criminal inquiry, his lawyer said.

Yuri Schmidt said Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was questioned on suspicion of involvement in money-laundering allegations he dismissed as politically motivated.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, had been serving an eight-year sentence on fraud and tax evasion charges in a prison in Krasnokamensk, in eastern Siberia, 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow. He and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were moved to a detention center in the regional capital, Chita, last week.

"The new case is a continuation of selective justice aimed at applying moral and physical pressure on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, further destruction of Yukos and the confiscation of assets," Schmidt said in a statement posted on a Web site for Khodorkovsky supporters.

He said prosecutors alleged Khodorkovsky was involved in laundering illegal oil revenues through his Open Russia foundation. Schmidt said that Khodorkovsky refused to answer questions, arguing that the investigators were dependent on the Kremlin and were incapable of conducting an unbiased probe.

"Khodorkovsky believes that the new case is a political farce," Schmidt said in a phone interview from Chita.

The Prosecutor General's office would not make any immediate comment.

Supporters of Khodorkovsky say his imprisonment, and the dismantling of his oil empire, is part of a Kremlin-driven campaign to eliminate political rivals and boost state control of Russia's key energy sector, reports AP.

In a separate case, the Moscow City Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina to suspend her six-year prison sentence on embezzlement and tax evasion charges, the court said in a statement. Bakhmina, who has two young sons, has been jailed since her December 2004 arrest.

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