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Broken legs did not stop an important defendant for the new case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev from escaping from special forces "guarding" him from a security service.
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Jan. 16, 2007
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Khodorkovsky Accomplice Makes a Break
Kommersant has learned that Spanish citizen Antonio Valdez-Garcia, former head of the YUKOS affiliate Fargoil, disappeared during his trial. He is accused of involvement in the embezzlement of $13 billion allegedly organized by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. After the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Valdez-Garcia to 11 years in prison, he fled from his police guard. Sentencing was interrupted. It had been timed to new charges to be made against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev for similar deeds.
Valdez-Garcia, 32, who has a Spanish passport, at worked in Russia for YUKOS since the late 1990s. He flew to Moscow from Madrid in June 2005 at the request of investigators from the Prosecutor General of Russia's Office, after assurances that he was not in danger of being imprisoned in Russia. Valdez-Garcia considered it necessary to satisfy the prosecutor's request because they threatened otherwise to block his reentry to Russia, where he has employment, property and a girlfriend. In Spain, he has only distant relatives.

Valdez-Garcia was met at the airport by members of the FSB and Interior Ministry, who told him that he was to be protected from the YUKOS security service, which was allegedly searching for him. He was taken to a special forces base outside of Moscow. The policemen guarding Valdez-Garcia decided to convince him to give evidence against the organizers of the crimes. Their methods of persuasion were apparently disagreeable to Spanish citizen Valdez-Garcia, since he attempted suicide in August 2005 by jumping out the a second-story window at the base where he was being held. He suffered complex fractures of his extremities. The police took him to Istra hospital, saying that he had been in a car accident. Even after he was released from the hospital, Valdez-Garcia had a slow recovery, and went to see investigators on crutches. He was again placed under police guard under the witness protection law, although he was not a witness, but a charged offender who did not admit any guilt.

In April 2006, Judge Elena Yarlykova of the Basmanny Court began hearing the case against Valdez-Garcia and two other defendants, former general director of YUKOS affiliate Ratibor Vladimir Malakhovsky and former deputy director of the YUKOS foreign debt directorate Vladimir Pereverzin. They were accused of involvement in the embezzlement of $13 billion, of which $8.5 billion was allegedly laundered. According to investigators, crude oil produced by YUKOS subsidiaries was delivered on paper to Fargoil (which was headed by Valdez-Garcia) and Ratibor (headed by Malakhovsky). Those companies are registered in tax exemption zones in Mordovia and Evenkia, respectively. The crude oil bought at artificially low prices by those companies was sold at market price and the proceeds sent to offshore companies. That was done to economize on taxes, but the Prosecutor General's Office saw embezzlement and laundering of YUKOS money in those actions. But the victim of the crime was declared to be not YUKOS, but Yuganskneftegaz, which owns 0.0003 percent of its stock and, as a shareholder, suffered from the misuse of YUKOS money.

At the first court hearing, defendant Malakhovsky's lawyer Pavel Silkov petitioned to have the trial closed to the public, saying that journalists would interfere in the workings of the court. The other defendants' lawyers agreed to the request, but Valdez-Garcia, the only defendant who was not in prison already, was against it. I don't see the need to close the trial, he said. I also object to the state protection I am being provided. Why do I need it? The court ruled to close the trial to the public because it is required in the interests of guaranteeing the security of the participants.

In spite of the defense's efforts, some information about the course of the trial became known. For instance, at the stage of judicial inquiry, prosecutor Irina Shlyaeva petitioned to have Valdez-Garcia undergo psychiatric examination, saying that he is inadequate and is not fully conscious of what is occurring in the trial. The court decided that that step was unnecessary.

The court began to hear arguments at the end of December. Shlyaeva asked the court to find the defendants guilty of large-scale embezzlement and legalization of illegally obtained capital and sentenced to 11 years in prison each. Lawyers for the defendants were to speak at sessions after the New Year's holiday. The sessions were cancelled, however, because of the absence of Valdez-Garcia. His police guards stated that he locked them in his apartment and disappeared. Last Friday, a second prosecutor told the court that criminal cases have been initiated against Valdez-Garcia's guards. He also petitioned for judicial inquiry to be resumed in order to have a warrant issued for Valdez-Garcia's arrest. Judge Yarlykova decided to give the prosecutor's office and Interior Ministry time to search hospitals and morgues and rescheduled the next session for today.

A Kommersant correspondent asked Valdez-Garcia's lawyers Artur Vorobyev and Tatyana Nozhkina to comment on their client's disappearance. Vorobyev declined to comment, but Nozhkina said, He has not been found yet. I don't know where he is. Ignacio Moreno Gonsalves, an official representative of the Spanish Embassy in the Russian Federation, told Kommersant that the general consulate of the embassy offered consular services to Valdez-Garcia in November or December of last year and he thanked them for the offer and promised to take advantage of it if it became necessary. He has not made contact with us yet, Gonsalves said. Valdez-Garcia's disappearance has interrupted sentencing in the case, which is closely tied to a new case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. The charges that the Prosecutor General's Office is preparing to make any day now against them at the Chita holding facility are connected with the delivery of oil by YUKOS subsidiaries to Fargoil and Ratibor, which, according to the investigation took place only on paper. The prosecutor was hoping that the sentencing of the lower link in the criminal organization, that is, Valdez-Garcia, Pereverzin and Malakhovsky, would take place in February, so that the investigation could make reference to it as prejudicial in its accusations against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in the new case. Now that sentencing has been postponed indefinitely.

Former chief attorney for YUKOS Dmitry Gololobov, who is now based in London and who has been placed on the international wanted list by the Prosecutor General's Office, thinks that Valdez-Garcia's flight will have a negative effect on other suspects in the YUKOS case who are at large on recognizance not to leave. The may now be arrested. Gololobov suggested that Valdez-Garcia could now be located in a dugout in the Kaluga forest. He is mentally tied to Russia. He has a girlfriend there. He doesn't have a job or place to live in Spain. But I think he made a mistake. Now it is a matter for law enforcement, and anything can happen to him.


Ekaterina Zapodinskaya

All the Article in Russian as of Jan. 16, 2007

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