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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Judges Drag Out Verdict for Second Day

MTKhodorkovsky, left, and Lebedev standing during a court recess on Tuesday.
Judges in the highly politicized trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev said Tuesday that the Menatep founders had committed crimes on six of the seven charges against them, but after a few hours again adjourned their laborious reading of the verdict until the next day.

Defense lawyers said if the three judges continued at their current pace, it could take more than a week for them to announce a formal and final verdict, almost certain to be "guilty."

The only suspense remaining in the fraud and tax evasion trial was the sentencing. Prosecutors have called for the maximum sentence of 10 years in the case, seen as a Kremlin backlash against Khodorkovsky's growing political and business ambitions.

"The court has said that they have committed all these crimes, so it's clear that the verdict will be guilty, but how guilty we don't know yet," said Yelena Liptser, an attorney for Lebedev. "It is not clear what the sentence will be."

Other defense lawyers railed at the chief judge, saying she had not taken into account any of the evidence put forward against the prosecution's case.

"The sentence has not been read yet, but already we consider it illegal," said Yury Schmidt, one of Khodorkovsky's lead defense lawyers. "We see considerable violations in the text of the verdict that has already been read out. The judge has completely taken the side of the prosecution."

Schmidt also criticized the judge for calling for an adjournment so quickly. "The judge only has the right to adjourn a hearing at the end of the working day," he said. Tuesday's court session began at 10:30 a.m. and after two breaks was halted before 2 p.m. The reading of the verdict had begun on Monday.

"What we are seeing appears to be a very cynical manipulation of the process," said Robert Amsterdam, one of the foreign lawyers Khodorkovsky has hired to press his case in the West. He said the early adjournments were a sign the authorities were trying to drag out the process "to make sure the world loses interest in this, including the mass media."

Journalists flocked to the Meshchansky District Court again Tuesday, but only a handful were allowed into the cramped and stuffy courtroom where Khodorkovsky sat cool and collected and from time to time smiled at his mother, Marina.

The trio of judges, who alternated in reading the verdict aloud, moved on from their summation to citing witness testimony Tuesday. As they read, Khodorkovsky appeared to be jotting something into a notepad, while Lebedev rarely raised his head from the crossword puzzle he was intently filling in.

Chief Judge Irina Kolesnikova cited witness testimony as showing "Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, acting as the leaders of an organized criminal group, ... faked documents ... to fraudently obtain a 44 percent stake in NIUIF," a fertilizer research institute, in 1995.

She cited witnesses working for the investment department of Bank Menatep, the bank founded by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, as saying they had been ordered to establish two companies for simultaneous participation in an auction for a stake in the institute in 1995, both of which received guarantees from Bank Menatep. She cited their participation in creating these companies as evidence that Menatep had rigged the auction in its favor. Even though the witnesses only named their direct boss in the investment department as having given the order to do so, Kolesnikova said that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, as the ultimate heads of the bank, were in charge. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, at the time chairman and president of the bank, respectively, have denied knowledge of that deal.

The judges said the trial had established that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev committed crimes on two counts of extortion, two counts of embezzlement, one count of tax fraud and one count of tax evasion, Interfax reported.

The judges did not mention the fraud charge over the 1994 privatization of the Apatit fertilizer plant. "Today it became clear that the judge has decided not to consider the criminal case over Apatit because the [10-year] statute of limitations has expired," Liptser said.

The state prosecutor had said earlier, however, that he was calling for the maximum 10-year sentence for a multitude of crimes not including the privatization of Apatit.

One of the defense lawyers, Genrikh Padva, told reporters that the formulation of the verdict so far gave reason to hope for a lighter sentence. He did not explain, and other defense lawyers said the wording appeared to leave little room for leniency.

Lebedev has been jailed for more than 22 months and Khodorkovsky for 19 months.

Amsterdam said Khodorkovsky's defense team had no doubt "they will put him away until after the elections" in 2008.

The demonstrations outside the courthouse on Monday, which ended in violence as OMON police tried to disperse a group of pro-Khodorkovsky supporters with batons, had shown the Kremlin that Khodorkovsky was "a real political force," he said.