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Khodorkovsky, Mikhail Borisovich

KHODORKOVSKY, MIKHAIL BORISOVICH (1963– ), Russian "oligarch." Born in Moscow to a Jewish father who was a factory worker, Khodorkovsky graduated from the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology, where he studied economics, and served as deputy head of the Communist Youth League, the Komsomol. With several partners from the Komsomol he opened a private coffee house in 1986, expanding to import and sell such goods as brandy and computers. By 1988 he had built up an import-export business that brought in $10 million a year. In 1989 he and his partners opened Bank Menatep, one of Russia's first privately owned banks. Highly successful, Menatep was the first Russian enterprise to issue stocks to the public since the Russian Revolution (1917). Its clients included many government services and ministries. Meanwhile, Khodorkovsky continued to expand his import-export empire. In 1995 Menatep won the bid to acquire a controlling interest in the state-owned oil company Yukos.

When the ruble collapsed in 1998 Menatep went under as well, losing its banking license and its shares in Yukos. By 2000 Khodorkovsky was back on his feet, and back in control of Menatep and Yukos. In 2003 Yukos merged with the Sibneft oil company. With 19.5 billion barrels of oil and gas, the corporation owned the second-largest oil and gas reserves in the world, after Exxon Mobil. That year, Khodorkovsky ranked #26 on the list of the World's Richest People and #1 as the wealthiest man in Russia.

On October 23, 2003, the billionaire Khodorkovsky was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion. His dramatic arrest was carried out by 15 masked federal operatives and dozens of armed agents. In May 2005 he was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment. In October 2005, he was sent to a labor camp.

The Russian crackdown on the economic crimes of the so-called oligarchs – a few dozen Jews and non-Jews controlling a quarter of Russia's national product and worth over $100 billion – has been perceived by many as tinged with antisemitism.