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Court allows action against key Yukos shareholder

Novosibirsk (Russia), Nov. 6 (Reuters): A Russian court upheld a request by Moscow prosecutors to strip a key Yukos shareholder of his parliamentary immunity today in the latest legal move against the oil giant.

The ruling by the court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk could now leave Vasily Shakhnovsky open to prosecution for large-scale tax evasion on which he has already been charged. A government official in the remote oil-rich region of Evenkiya said the court had annulled a parliamentary vote making Shakhnovsky one of its representatives in Russia’s upper house.

This official said the court had upheld the prosecutors’ view that correct procedures had not been observed in his election to the Federation Council. The court ruling is the latest twist in action by prosecutors against Yukos in which the company’s chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been arrested and detained in jail on charges also of tax evasion as well as fraud. He has since stepped down from his post.

News that Shakhnovsky had lost his immunity came as President Vladimir Putin, at a Russia-EU summit in Rome, faced European officials suspicious that Yukos may be the target of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to punish Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, a multi-billionaire and Russia’s richest man, has backed political opponents of Putin in parliamentary elections due to take place next month. Apart from Khodorkovsky and Shakhnovsky, another YUKOS major shareholder Platon Lebedev is being held in jail on theft linked to a 1994 privatisation deal.

Shakhnovsky has been spared pre-trial detention but is prohibited from leaving Moscow.

Parliament in Evenkiya voted for Shakhnovsky to become senator a day after security police snatched Khodorkovsky from his plane in Siberia on October 25 and flew him to Moscow to be incarcerated ahead of trial.

Prosecutors have made clear they believe his election to parliament was a ruse to prevent them pressing their criminal case against Shakhnovsky, who holds 3.09 percent of the oil giant's shares.

But a source close to Evenkiya's parliament said the deputies could hold a re-vote, making sure all necessary procedures were duly observed.

”It is now being decided if we will go to the end. Then we will hold another session on the same issue observing all the formalities mentioned by the prosecutors,” the source told Reuters by telephone.

Evenkiya is one of the poorest Russian regions with huge untapped oil reserves. YUKOS is a key player there.

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