A Moscow court said it considered Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty on most of the charges against him in the politically charged case, the Russian news agency Interfax reported yesterday.
But the court yesterday suspended for a day the reading of the verdicts in the fraud and tax evasion trial of the oil tycoon and his business associate Platon Lebedev.
The court had pronounced the two men guilty of fraud on the first of 11 counts against them when Judge Yelena Maximova declared an adjournment. The session was to resume today.
Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company and once estimated as Russia's richest man, was charged along with Lebedev with tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement, among other crimes. Prosecutors have asked for the maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Guilt "is confirmed by the material of the case and by the evidence of witnesses," Judge Irina Kolesnikova was quoted as saying. However, the report said Kolesnikova's statement did not constitute the final verdict for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.
There was wide speculation that the court would impose a lighter sentence in the case, which has raised concern about Russia's respect for rule of law. Khodorkovsky supporters contend the case against him was Kremlin-directed revenge for his funding of opposition parties.
One of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, Genrikh Padva, said phrasings in the verdict, which was being read aloud, "give hope for a softer sentence," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The lengthy verdict process began on Monday and it was not clear when it would be completed.
Police yesterday beefed up security precautions outside the court building, erecting crowd barriers and metal detectors on both sides of the street and stopping passing cars for inspection. As Khodorkovsky's parents were waiting for admission to the courthouse, reporters asked what they expected from the day.
"Tell me what's good here," Boris Khodorkovsky responded, indicating the police officers lining both sides of the street.
About 100 anti-Khodorkovsky demonstrators carried placards bearing slogans such as "Khodorkovsky, return our money," reflecting the resentment among many Russians of businessmen like Khodorkovsky who became enormously wealthy in the 1990s economic free-for-all following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A pro-Khodorkovsky demonstration outside the court a day earlier was forcefully dispersed by police and Sergei Mitrokhin, a liberal politician who said he was detained and beaten in that incident, said yesterday's demonstrators had been seen leaving the Federal Security Service headquarters in Moscow in the morning -- implying their demonstration had official organization.
Khodorkovsky was delivered to a side entrance in an armored van, out of public view.
The reading of the verdict could still take days to complete, but the first words out of the judge's mouth Monday already left little doubt that he would be found guilty on all charges, his lawyers said.
Supporters say Khodorkovsky's the victim of a campaign rooted in Kremlin anger at 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."
Both at home and abroad, the case has raised questions about President Vladimir Putin's commitment to the rule of law. It also has disturbed foreign investors who are thinking twice about putting money into Russia despite an economy that is feeling the benefit of high world oil prices.
Khodorkovsky has been imprisoned since October 2003, when he was seized by special forces in a raid on his jet as it sat on the tarmac of a Siberian airport. Lebedev was arrested three months earlier.
Both were charged with crimes related to the 1994 privatization of a fertilizer-component company. During his 19 months in prison, his crown-jewel oil company Yukos has been hit with billions of dollars in back tax bills and its key production subsidiary acquired by the state after a murky auction ordered to meet part of the tax arrears.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are charged with rigging the privatization auction, stripping profits from a major fertilizer component maker, illegally using onshore tax havens to slash Yukos' tax bills and dodging millions in personal income tax.
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