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Russia court orders release of former Yukos lawyer

[JURIST] A Russian court Tuesday ordered the release on parole [RIA Novosti report] of Svetlana Bakhmina, the former lawyer for Russian oil firm OAS Yukos Oil Co. [TIME backgrounder]. Bakhmina was convicted [JURIST report] of embezzlement and tax evasion in 2006 for her part in a scheme to strip assets worth over $300 million from a Yukos subsidiary. As a lawyer for Yukos, Bakhmina worked closely with the company's former chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his former business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website], who were convicted and jailed in 2005 on similar fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an alleged attempt to embezzle and strip Yukos of valuable assets. Earlier Tuesday, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev both pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to additional charges of money laundering and embezzlement. The two men are already facing trial on further embezzlement and money laundering charges, which they have challenged, alleging that the evidence against them is insufficient [RIA Novosti report].

Last month, a Russian court refused a request [JURIST report] by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to have the charges against them dropped, one day after Judge Viktor Danilkin refused to recuse himself [St. Petersburg Times report] from the case amid accusations of bias. Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition against former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive]. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered [JURIST report] last month by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky still maintains that his 2005 conviction [JURIST report] on the fraud and tax evasion was unjust, and maintains his innocence. He requested early release from that sentence last July, but his application was rejected [JURIST reports] in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony [Guardian backgrounder], refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed [JURIST report] that decision.

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