Lebedev says never heard of Yukos former executive before arrested

A former executive officer of Group Menatep, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s business partner, Platon Lebedev, said before his arrest he had never heard of former Yukos executive Antonio Valdes-Garcia, accused of stealing oil from Khodorkovsky’s firm and laundering the proceeds.

Valdes-Garcia, a Spanish citizen, is being tried in absentia as he has fled to Spain to avoid prosecution. He is accused of buying oil from Yukos-affiliated extracting companies at a large discount and then selling it at excessive prices between 2001 and 2003.

“Until 2003, when I was arrested, I had not heard anything about a man with that surname,” Lebedev said. “I found out about Valdes-Garcia in 2007 from the criminal case’s materials and media reports,” he continued.

“I don’t know anything about deals of 2001-2003; however, I know their results,” Lebedev said adding he did not work in Russian companies in 1999-2003 and chaired Group Menatep Ltd registered in Gibraltar. However, he said that all the papers on these deals had been audited and they are still valid.

Lebedev added that no one would have entrusted oil to a man like Valdes-Garcia, “it’s absurd.” He also said that he “did not know about any organized [criminal] group.”

On Thursday, Ex-Yukos CEO Khodorkovsky at a court session dismissed allegations against Valdes-Garcia.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who are themselves serving prison terms for Yukos-related crimes, appeared at a Moscow court as witnesses in the trial of the former head of the Yukos subsidiary Fargoil.

Valdes-Garcia’s case was separated from another one, in which two former Yukos executives, Vladimir Pereverzin and Vladimir Malakhovsky, were sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively, on the same charges.

Khodorkovsky denied claims that Valdes-Garcia was a member of a criminal group operating within Yukos “simply because such a group did not exist.”

If such violations were uncovered, the Yukos leadership would try to bring those guilty to trial on charges of abusing their authority, Khodorkovsky said, adding that every year, at least 100 such lawsuits was being filed by his company.

Earlier this year, the Spanish authorities expressed their readiness to resume negotiations with Russia on Valdes-Garcia’s extradition. According to Russian intelligence sources, he may be extradited as early as this summer.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, and Lebedev were jailed in 2003 on embezzlement and tax evasion charges. The two men were near the end of their eight-year prison term when they were sentenced to another six years in jail in December on charges of embezzling oil from Yukos an laundering the proceeds.

Last month, a Moscow court upheld Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s second conviction, but cut their sentences by a year. The two men have denied all charges against them, saying that they were a revenge for Khodorkovsky’s funding of opposition parties during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, something the Russian authorities categorically deny.

MOSCOW, June 3 (RIA Novosti)

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