Russia raids homes of Kremlin critic Khodorkovsky's staff

AFP , Tuesday 22 Dec 2015

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, speaks during a webcast conference in London, and is seen on a TV screen in Open Russia movement office in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Russian investigators on Tuesday raided the apartments of employees of Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia group, less than two weeks after Moscow charged the former tycoon with murder.

Members of the government's Investigative Committee searched the homes of Khodorkovsky's spokeswoman Kulle Pispanen and employees of his opposition group Open Russia.

The group, citing Investigative Committee staff, said the searches are connected to a 2003 tax evasion case involving Khodorkovsky.

Defence lawyer Pavel Chikov said the apartments of at least seven people had been searched including that of Saint Petersburg-based Open Russia coordinator Natalya Gryaznevich.

The Investigative Committee confirmed the early morning raids.

Earlier this month Russian investigators charged the former oil tycoon in abstentia with organising the 1998 murder of a mayor in Siberia, a move supporters say is aimed at silencing the self-exiled Kremlin critic.

Khodorkovsky was also charged with the attempted murders of two other people.

Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky, 52, spent a decade in prison on charges of tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement which he and his supporters say were trumped up in revenge for the business magnate's political ambitions.

Khodorkovsky was unexpectedly pardoned by Putin in 2013 and flown out of the country.

Khodorkovsky, who now spends much of his time in London, has slammed Putin's system and said he was ready, if called upon, to lead Russia in times of crisis.

As investigators announced they planned to press new charges against Khodorkovsky, the Putin critic called a news conference in London, which was broadcast online, calling the Kremlin's agenda "shitty" and saying revolution in Russia was inevitable.

Khodorkovsky responded on Twitter to the latest raids.

"The searches at Open Russia after meeting with journalists," he wrote, apparently referring to his earlier news conference. "Putin has become predictable. Stability at least somewhere."

Tuesday's raids come after armed police searched the offices of Open Russia in April, during Putin's marathon annual phone-in session.

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