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Khodorkovsky Lawyers Expect Verdict in June

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos, may have to wait until June to hear the final verdict from judges reading out their conclusions in his 11-month trial for embezzlement, fraud and tax evasion.

Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev on Friday faced the fifth day of hearings on the verdict at the Meshchansky District Court. The pace at which the tribunal of judges is proceeding makes it possible the verdict will take several weeks, Yelena Liptser, a lawyer for Lebedev, said.

The judges adjourned the trial until Monday, having read only about a third of the giant summing up document they must get through before pronouncing their verdict.

The recital of the verdict is dragging on so long that even Khodorkovsky's parents left the courtroom early Friday.

Many media organizations have already scaled down their coverage of the trial and protests by Khodorkovsky's supporters and opponents outside the court have dwindled away.

The judge and two assistants in the case have been reading the verdict in relays for only about four hours per day. The court adjourned for the weekend after about three and a half hours on Friday. That "doesn't formally break the law, but normally they read the verdict in a more simple way and faster," Genrikh Padva, one of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, said.

Another lawyer, Yelena Liptser, said about 20 to 30 pages had been read Friday, and estimated about 1,000 remained. "This is a first in my experience," she said.

"The judges list countless number of names of firms and organizations that we think don't have anything to do with the case."

"The court is just blabbing on and on," Khodorkovsky's father, Boris, told Ekho Moskvy radio, as he left the courtroom before the end of the day's proceedings.

Khodorkovsky called his trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion a politically motivated attack that devastated Yukos. He funded politicians who opposed President Vladimir Putin and sought to cut taxes on oil producers. Yukos, once Russia's largest oil company, was hit with $27.5 billion in tax claims after Khodorkovsky's arrest in 2003.

Both men said they were innocent of the prosecution's charges that they ran an organized group in the 1990s that defrauded the state of $1 billion.

Liptser said the judges may be dragging out the verdict to reduce the attention paid by journalists and the public.

Court officials said they would not comment on the case.

The lawyers would first have to appeal the verdict in the Moscow City Court, Anton Drel, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky, said Friday. The next instance would be the Supreme Court, he said.

Judges summing up the politically charged case have said the 41-year-old billionaire committed crimes related to all seven of the fraud and tax evasion charges against him -- leaving no doubt of an eventual guilty verdict.

Former economy minister Yevgeny Yasin said earlier this week that he expected the tycoon -- whose personal wealth is still estimated by the U.S. magazine Forbes at more $2 billion -- to be in jail beyond the 2008 presidential elections.

Under Russian procedures, a trial verdict is not a simple declaration of whether a defendant is guilty, but a long summation of prosecution and defense arguments and court commentary.

(The Moscow Times 23.v.05)

 
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