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Pichugin's Sentence Increased to Life

Itar-TassPichugin listening to the reading of the new verdict and sentence Monday.
The Moscow City Court convicted former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin on Monday of organizing three murders and four attempted murders, and sentenced him to life in prison.

It was the second time in less than a year that Pichugin was convicted on the same charges, although Judge Pyotr Shtunder found him guilty Monday on additional counts.

Pichugin was sentenced to 24 years in prison in August 2006 after being convicted of organizing two murders and two attempted murders. But the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in February after an appeal from prosecutors, who said the sentence was too light.

On Monday, Pichugin was convicted -- again -- of organizing the 1998 killings of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov and Moscow businesswoman Valentina Korneyeva, as well as organizing an attempt on the life of Yevgeny Rybin, the director of Vienna-based East Petroleum Handelsgas.

Shtunder also convicted Pichugin of organizing the murder of a businessman identified only by his last name, Fedotov, and on three counts of attempted murder.

Russian law contains no protection against double jeopardy, and the Constitutional Court in May ruled that cases against convicted criminals can be reopened and their sentences made more severe if new evidence comes to light.

The life sentence came as no surprise to Pichugin's defense team. One of his lawyers, Georgy Kaganer, said during a break that Shtunder's tone indicated that he would grant prosecutors' request to put his client behind bars for good.

It took Shtunder five hours to read the verdict in the packed, boiling-hot courtroom. Everyone inside was required to stand for the duration, and Pichugin -- dressed in sweat pants and a blue collared shirt -- did the same in his glass courtroom cell.

When the judge issued the life sentence, Pichugin glanced up at the ceiling as a wry smile crept across his face.

Pichugin's lawyers said after the verdict that they planned to appeal to the Supreme Court and, possibly, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

"It's a farce," said Dmitry Kurepin, one of Pichugin's lawyers.

State prosecutor Kamil Kashayev said he was pleased and "relieved" at the verdict.

"We've been working on this for a long time," Kashayev said.

Prosecutors announced Pichugin's 2003 arrest at the same time as that of Platon Lebedev, director of Group Menatep, the majority shareholder in Yukos, thus beginning the onslaught against jailed CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Menatep business empire.

The legal assault has all but destroyed Yukos, once the country's largest oil company, and led to the jailing of several Yukos executives, including Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, in what was widely seen as a political campaign of selective justice and skewed rulings.

The Pichugin case has been seen as vital in a state drive to blacken Yukos' name and have Khodorkovsky's closest lieutenant, Leonid Nevzlin, extradited from Israel.

Prosecutors have accused Nevzlin of ordering murders they say were organized by Pichugin, and much of Monday's verdict was devoted to linking the two. Nevzlin denies the allegations.

Before his conviction last year, Pichugin was serving a 20-year sentence after his 2005 conviction.

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