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Russian investigators suspect former oil tycoon Khodorkovsky of ordering mayor's 1998 murder

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MOSCOW — Russian investigators announced Tuesday they are reopening the case of the 1998 killing of a Siberian mayor and consider former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky a prime suspect.

At the time when Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov was shot dead, he was involved in a conflict with Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, over the payment of taxes to the town. Khodorkovsky and his associates have denied any involvement and no one has been convicted in the killing.

The announcement that investigators were considering whether to charge Khodorkovsky with ordering the killing came as he is becoming an increasingly strong voice in Russian opposition politics.

Khodorkovsky has lived in exile in Switzerland since his 2013 release from prison, where he spent 10 years on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering that were seen as punishment for challenging President Vladimir Putin's power. He funds a Russian civil society organization called Open Russia.

Investigators now have information implicating Khodorkovsky directly in the killing of the mayor and other crimes, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the federal Investigative Committee, said in a statement. He said they intended to question Khodorkovsky, and "his absence from Russian territory would not be an insurmountable obstacle."

Khodorkovsky's spokeswoman Olga Pispanen said there would be no comment, the Tass news agency reported.

The Kremlin is suspicious of non-governmental organizations, especially those funded from abroad, seeing them as aimed at undermining Putin's rule. The Russian government also is fighting a ruling made last year by an arbitration court in The Hague, Netherlands, that it must pay $50 billion to compensate the former shareholders of Yukos, which was bankrupted in the same legal onslaught that sent Khodorkovsky to prison.

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