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Jailed Russian oil chief resigns

Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, is accused of fraud.
Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, is accused of fraud.

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A political crisis erupts after the jailing of Khodorkovsky.
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Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Vladimir V. Putin

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Jailed Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has resigned as head of the embattled Russian oil giant.

Khodorkovsky, chief of Yukos and the newly merged YukosSibneft, was jailed in Moscow a week ago on $1 billion fraud and tax evasion charges.

The companies are at the center of a confrontation between the Kremlin and big business.

"As the leader of this company, I must do my utmost to lead our working team out from under the attack which has been directed against me and my partners," Khodorkovsky said in a statement Monday.

"I am leaving the company. I am sure that a highly professional and close team of experienced managers with the support of the board will successfully cope with the task of globalization of YukosSibneft's business," the statement said.

A Yukos spokesman confirmed the resignation to CNN and said Khodorkovsky took the move "to set himself free in a political sense. It gives him the ability to fight back."

Khodorkovsky is Russia's richest man, with an estimated wealth of $8 billion.

Yukos shares fell dramatically following Khodorkovsky's arrest, pulling the broader Russian stock market down with it.

His resignation is seen as a way to separate Khodorkovsky personally from Yukos as a company, CNN's Jill Dougherty said.

"Mr. Khodorkovsky apparently decided if he cuts himself off from Yukos, it might give the company more leeway to move ahead," Dougherty said.

Yukos shares rose 3.9 percent in Moscow trading immediately after Khodorkovsky's announcement, ending the day up 12 percent at $12.65, The Associated Press reported.

Reuters quoted a source close to Yukos' owners as saying company chairman Simon Kukes will head a new seven-strong executive board that will run the business in the future.

Meanwhile, fresh criticism of Russian prosecutors' actions in the Yukos case has been voiced, as President Vladimir Putin's new chief of staff warned that the overzealousness of some officials can be dangerous.

Dmitri Medvedev, in an interview with Russia's Rossiya television Sunday, questioned the impounding of a large portion of the shares in Yukos Oil Company, which prosecutors claim belong to Khodorkovsky.

"How effective legally, for instance, was the arrest of shares in Yukos? The shares belong to offshore companies and they are supposed to ensure that damages are paid," Medvedev said.

"The legal effectiveness of such measures is not obvious. Our colleagues should think through the economic consequences of their decisions."

The new chief of staff also warned that "administrative bodies, including law enforcement, are a very serious tool. They provoke a strong reaction in quite different areas. At some point there may arise a certain zeal. This is a dangerous thing. Consequences of incompletely-thought-through actions will immediately have an effect on the economy and sow confusion in political life."

The comments were significant since they appeared on a leading government-controlled television network.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov took another tack, criticizing the United States for interfering in Russia's internal affairs with the criticism of the arrest of Khodorkovsky.

The U.S. State Department's Richard Boucher said last week that the Bush administration believes that the arrest and the freezing of Yukos shares raises "serious questions about the rule of law in Russia."

Ivanov, in a separate interview with Rossiya television Sunday, said the U.S. "is trying to place the actions of the judicial organs of Russian in doubt. This is interference in the judicial affairs of another state that is not acceptable and should not be in the normal terms of democratic society."

Ivanov said it was part of a pattern of "double standards" by the United States in which Washington tries to "teach other people."

The foreign minister noted that financial scandals have affected the United States recently, but that the State Department did not intervene or criticize the judicial process in those cases.

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report

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