Making what may be his last public appearance before being sent back to prison, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky testified on Thursday at the trial of a former colleague who is accused of siphoning off $13 billion from one of Khodorkovsky's subsidiaries.
Khodorkovsky, jailed since the autumn of 2003, is due to be released in 2016. A Moscow appeals court last month upheld his conviction on charges of stealing billions of dollars from his own company, Russia's now-dissolved oil major Yukos. He previously was convicted of tax evasion and fraud.
He is waiting to learn where he is to be sent to serve out his sentence; his elderly parents expressed hope it won't be the remote prison in eastern Siberia where he has so far been incarcerated. Khodorkovsky applied for parole earlier this week. It's not clear if he will be sent to prison from pretrial detention before a parole hearing.
The legal onslaught against Khodorkovsky, who funded opposition political parties and was positioned to sell off prized Russian energy assets to an American company, is widely seen as politically motivated. But the European Court of Human Rights this week ruled there was no hard proof of such motives.
Many of Khodorkovsky's former colleagues were jailed, with some claiming authorities pressured them into incriminating their boss at Yukos, which until 2003 was country's largest oil company. Yukos was stripped down and sold off to state companies in a series of murky auctions.
The man being tried in absentia on Thursday is Antonio Valdes-Garcia, whom prosecutors allege funneled $13 billion of funds raised by the export sale of Yukos' oil via the subsidiary company he ran, Fargoil.
Khodorkovsky testified that although he knew of Valdes-Garcia, they were not personally acquainted. Khodorkovsky also said that he would have known of any finagling by Fargoil.
The 47-year-old appeared relaxed as he entered the hot and cramped courtroom in a black polo shirt, handcuffed to one of four guards. He smiled and nodded at his mother, Marina, and took his place at the witness stand, where he stood for two hours answering mainly technical questions on how Fargoil fit into Yukos' business structure.
"Valdes-Garcia didn't belong to any criminal gang, there were no such criminal gangs," he said. "If Valdes-Garcia had broken the rules, it would have been reported to me within a week."
Khodorkovsky appeared to express despair when forced into "yes" or "no" answers to complex questions, shrugging and looking to the gallery.
Valdes-Garcia, now in Spain, fled Russia in 2003, when the state case against Yukos began. He was charged in absentia, but returned to Russia in 2005 to give evidence in exchange for being classified a witness rather than a suspect.
He claimed Russian officials reneged on the deal and forced him to partially confess. He was placed under house arrest, during which time he said he received police threats that he should implicate Khodorkovsky and others. He claimed to have been severely beaten after he vowed to go public about the threats.
Valdes-Garcia said he filed a report saying he sustained the injuries in a fall from a window in exchange for promises he wouldn't suffer further violence.
But Valdes-Garcia, who has dual Spanish and Russian citizenship, escaped from house arrest in Moscow in January 2007 after reportedly locking his police guards inside his apartment.