Jailed tycoon Khodorkovsky accuses Kremlin of trying to extend his prison sentence

Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Thursday accused the Kremlin of trying to extend his time in prison by opening a new criminal probe.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, is serving an eight-year sentence on fraud and tax-evasion charges. Prosecutors have opened a new investigation against him and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, according to their lawyers.

"I have no doubts that the new case against me and Platon Lebedev ... has an exclusively political character," said Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Russian oil giant Yukos.

His lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, said that prosecutors summoned Khodorkovsky on Wednesday for questioning on suspicion of involvement in money-laundering, but he refused to answer questions, dismissing the new probe as politically motivated.

Khodorkovsky has been serving his sentence in a prison in Krasnokamensk, in eastern Siberia, 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow. He and Lebedev, were moved last week to a detention center in the regional capital, Chita, for questioning in the new probe.

Prosecutors alleged Khodorkovsky was involved in laundering illegal oil revenues through his Open Russia foundation, but they have made no formal charges yet.

Khodorkovsky on Thursday accused senior members of President Vladimir Putin's administration whom he didn't name of ordering the new probe in order to extend his time in prison and prevent his possible early release in the run-up to the parliamentary elections next fall and the presidential vote set for March 2008.

"These people wanted to do everything to keep me in prison as long as possible," he said.

Khodorkovsky has been in custody since his arrest in October 2003, and he becomes theoretically eligible for an early release after he serves half of his eight-year sentence, reports AP.

Schmidt said that Khodorkovsky wouldn't cooperate with investigators.

"There is no sense in being involved in a dialogue with people whose goal is not to establish the truth but to carry out orders coming from the top," Schmidt told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Putin and other officials have insisted that the case was part of efforts to combat tax evasion and other illegal business practices. But Khodorkovsky's imprisonment and the dismantling of his oil empire were widely seen as part of a Kremlin-driven campaign to eliminate political rivals and boost state control of Russia's key energy sector.

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