The former security chief of Yukos jailed for murder

Pichugin gets 20. What awaits Khodorkovsky?

The Moscow City Court sentenced Aleksey Pichugin, the former security chief of the oil company Yukos, to 20 years in maximum-security prison on Wednesday. Pichugin's accomplice in a number of wrongdoings, Aleksey Peshkun, has received 4 years of imprisonment, after the jury had considered him as deserving leniency.

Since the trial had been held behind closed doors, the court made public only the conclusive part of the sentence, reports RIA Novosti. "The court bases its sentence on the accusatory verdict of the jurors and has found him guilty of murders and attempted murders," the judge said.

An intermediate point has thus been put in the case which has been lingering since June 21 of 2003, when Mr. Pichugin was arrested.

During the previous session, 8 of 12 jurors found Pichugin guilty of nearly all crimes he had been accused of: the double murder of Olga and Sergei Gorin, committed in Tambov in 2002. Apart from that, the jurors decided that the investigation had succeeded in proving Pichugin's guilt in organizing an attempted murder of Olga Kostina, former chief of the public relations department of the Moscow Mayor's Office and ex-adviser of former Yukos head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in November 1998.

It needs to be reminded that the prosecution asserts that the motive for the murder of the Gorin family was the fact that Sergey Gorin had threatened Pichugin with informing the law-enforcement agencies about Pichugin's plans to intimidate Olga Kostina. In 1998 an explosion thundered near the entrance door into the flat of Kostina's parents. Nobody was hurt. As for Gorin couple, they disappeared and their bodies haven't been found ever since.

As Olga Kostina's lawyer, Yekaterina Kuvyatkina, told PRAVDA.ru earlier, the position of the prosecution (consisting of her as a victim's advocate, two public prosecutors and victims) was concerted.

Aleksey Pichugin claims his guiltlessness and non-participation in the crimes he is accused of. Yet, according to the defense, the other defendant, Aleksey Peshkun (on a charge of abetting the crime) has pleaded guilty of organizing the assassination attempt against Olga Kostina. The public prosecutor demanded 3 years and 2 months of imprisonment for Peshkun. The jurors decided that he had deserved leniency. But anyway the court has sentenced him to 4 years of maximum-security prison.

After the sentence had been read out, Mr. Pichugin told journalists about his intention to appeal the decision. "I hoped for a verdict of not guilty. But now I intend to fight to the end," Pichugin said.

It should be reminded that according to some versions, Mr. Pichugin along with Mr. Nevzlin were suspected in murdering a mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov in July 1998. The company provided around 70% of the city's income and intended to turn it into Yukos's "capital". As the paper "Rossiyskiye Vesti" writes, the mayor desperately resisted it even after Yukos had slowed down its payments to the city's budget. Petukhov even went on hunger strike demanding to bring a criminal action against Yukos's tax evasion and stop its interference into the city's policies. He also promised after the hunger strike (it lasted for a week) to obtain the cancellation of an investment credit for Yukos. The events were turning sour for the company: Petukhov and his bodyguard were shot down on their way to office 10 days later. However, this episode wasn't charged against Yukos during the trial.

A day before a public prosecutor demanded 10 years of imprisonment against Pichugin's boss, the former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodokovsky and the head of the financial group "MENATEP", Platon Lebedev, and 5 and a half years of probation for the third defendant, Andrey Kraynov. Mrs. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are charged with violating seven clauses of the Russian Penal Code. Mr. Krainov is accused of fraud, persistent non-observance of court's decision and infliction of property damage.