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    Shares in the Russian oil giant Yukos plunged almost 20 per cent within an hour of opening overnight after chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on fraud and tax charges on the weekend.

    With a personal fortune of more than $US8 billion, Khodorkovsky is almost certainly the richest man ever to be arrested anywhere in the world.

    And the arrest of Russia's richest man appears to be political motivated. Khodorkovsky is a very public supporter of the liberal opposition to Vladimir Putin's government and with general elections looming in December the Kremlin is seeking to curb his growing influence.

    In July, one of Khodorkovsky's closest business associates was arrested on similar charges, in what was viewed by many as a warning to him and others amongst Russia's powerful Oligarchs as to just who is in charge.

    But Khodorkovsky refused to back down despite what he perceived as a campaign to freeze him out of Russia and has stated in the past that he would rather become "a political prisoner" than "a political emigre".

    The Moscow Times is reporting that the arrest has sparked universal criticism from the country's newspapers, with headlines such as "Capitalism With Stalin's Face" and "KGB-ization of government". Even the government-owned broadsheets expressed disapproval of the action describing it as "absurd":

    Khodorkovsky made his vast fortune in 1996, when Boris Yeltsin oversaw the most corrupt government privatisation program in history and made a select few of his cronies billionaires overnight as the government sold off public assets at bargain basement prices.

    However, under Khodorkovsky's leadership, Yukos became the first major Russian company to adopt Western accounting practices and attracted many foreign investors and managers. He was in negotations to sell a large stake of Yukos to US oil behemoth Exxon-Mobil, but these talks have been halted following Khodorkovsky's arrest.

    Russia's main stock index, the RTSI, also fell by more than 9 per cent in the first hour of trading, amid fears the arrest could scare foreign investors away from the Russian market.

    The Russian news site, Gateway to Russia has a good report on the arrest here:

    Or check out the AAP summary on The Age website here:

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky was this year ranked 26 on Forbes' list of the World's Richest Billionaires:

    Yukos is currently in the process of merging with Sibneft, owed by that other famous Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich, to form the fourth largest oil company. Back in August when Abramovich was turning the English Premier League upside down, Crikey's sports editor Patrick Fitzgerald put together an excellent special report on "Chelski's dodgy Russian billionaire" and the world of the Russian oligarchs:

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