- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

MOSCOW (AP) — The reading of the verdict in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s trial could take days, but even from the first words out of the judge’s mouth yesterday, lawyers for Russia’s one-time richest man said there was little doubt he would be found guilty on all charges.

Supporters of the former head of the Yukos oil company say he is the victim of a campaign rooted in Kremlin anger about his political ambitions, and one of his lawyers said the court is so subservient to prosecutors that its verdict is parroting their indictment “right down to the spelling errors.”

The biggest trial in post-Soviet Russia has raised questions about the nation’s respect for rule of law and rattled many investors thinking of getting into Russia’s booming economy.

Mr. Khodorkovsky has been imprisoned since October 2003, when he was seized by special forces in a dramatic raid on his jet while it sat on the tarmac at a Siberian airport. His co-defendant, business partner Platon Lebedev, had been arrested three months earlier.

Both are charged with crimes relating to the 1994 privatization of a fertilizer-component company. During Mr. Khodorkovsky’s 19 months in prison, his crown-jewel oil company Yukos has been slapped with billions of dollars in back-tax bills and its key production subsidiary was acquired by the state after a murky auction ordered to pay back part of the tax arrears.

Mr. Khodorkovsky arrived at a side entrance to the court from the jail cell where he has been held since his arrest. As always, he was hustled from the armored van straight into the building, while a crowd of journalists and a heavier-than-usual police contingent waited outside.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents gathered behind police barricades outside the Meshchansky District Court building in Moscow. Demonstrators chanted, “Free Khodorkovsky. Putin to court.”

Later in the afternoon, police roughly detained some demonstrators when they refused to leave the area in the time allotted and extra police were bused in to line the streets around the courthouse. The liberal Yabloko party said its deputy leader, Sergei Mitrokhin, was among about 15 people detained and beaten.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, sitting in a courtroom cage as is customary in Russian trials, was dressed in a brown suede jacket and bluejeans. He smiled at family members in the courtroom and jokingly mimed to his wife to take off her sunglasses. As Judge Irina Kolesnikova and her deputies alternated reading the decision from a stack of papers about 10 inches high, the shouts of demonstrators could be heard from the streets, evoking smiles and glances between Mr. Khodorkovsky and his mother, Maria.

Three hours into reading the verdict, Judge Kolesnikova adjourned the proceedings until today.

Under the Russian legal system, the verdict is not a simple pronouncement of guilt or acquittal but a long statement of the facts of the case before the decision is delivered.

The material read out yesterday included phrases such as “lying information” and “acting as part of a criminal group” that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers saw as a sure sign that he would be found guilty.

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