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Yukos chief fears return to totalitarian regime
July 21, 2003

Russia's richest man, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, warned that Russia might be taking a road back to totalitarianism as the state targeted his company, Yukos, in a series of legal assaults.

The authorities are investigating tax evasion at oil firms Yukos and Sibneft, which are due to merge to create the world's fourth-ranked producer. Yukos's chief financier is also in jail on embezzlement charges. "For me, the situation is clear -- the law enforcement structures decided that this was the best moment to show they could come to power," Khodorkovsky said late Sunday in comments broadcast on the TV Tsentr television channel.

"Today we must definitely decide if our country's future will be totalitarian. If we hold strong, this will be resolved once and for all," the billionaire magnate said.

"However, there is a risk that we will once again return to this stagnant swamp," he warned.

Khodorkovsky said that state officials he was working with to resolve the conflict also "consider this a nightmare scenario," and admitted that he himself could be the next target for arrest.

Nevertheless, he denied rumors that he might seek refuge abroad, which sprouted during his trip to the United States last week.

"I am here, I try to help my comrades who are in jail, I manage the company's affairs. This is my country and I have no other," the 40-year-old tycoon said.

Khodorkovsky, who has a personal fortune estimated at eight billion dollars (seven billion euros), has been targeted by prosecutors in what is seen as a politically driven campaign by shadowy Kremlin figures.

The tycoon has been financing opposition parties ahead of December parliamentary elections, in a move analysts say breaks a 2000 pact between President Vladimir Putin and the nation's billionaire magnates for them to keep out of politics.

Khodorkovsky defended his policy by voicing belief that "the country's stability cannot be obtained unless the left balances out the right in forming a civil society."

Meanwhile, analysts said that the Kremlin looked to see the State Duma lower house of parliament dominated by United Russia, a vast centrist coalition chaired by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov.

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