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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Reading of the Verdict Drones On

MTRyzhkov, speaking outside the courthouse on Thursday, said the Yukos case has cost the economy $100 billion.
"Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, knowing ahead of time about non-compliance with the investment agreement, ... organizing an illegal transfer ... illegal asset-stripping ... 44 percent ... ."

So went the monotonous drone of Chief Judge Irina Kolesnikova for a fourth day Thursday as she read out the verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev.

Both men face up to 10 years in jail on charges of tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement in a case that many see as a Kremlin backlash against Khodorkovsky for his political and business ambitions.

On Thursday morning, the judges caused a minor stir by reducing on technical grounds one of the charges, theft by fraud. But the change meant only that the Menatep founders would face a potential sentence of four to 10 years rather than five to 10 years. The defense said the ruling was insignificant and would not affect the verdict.

The atmosphere in the court was hardly different from the previous three days, with Lebedev studying crossword puzzles and breaking into an occasional chuckle to comment on Kolesnikova's mumbled reading. Khodorkovsky just shook his head in response. At times he would pick up a book to read or a notebook to doodle in.

One defense lawyer, Anton Drel, said the judges had gotten through less than one-third of the verdict, meaning the reading could well continue through most of next week.

The stack of paper that remains to be read out is almost as thick as when the hearing began on Monday.

"I have worked in Africa, I have worked in Latin America. I'd rather do a case in Nigeria than here," fumed Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer on the defense team. "Even if there is corruption, there is political space. Here, there's no political space."

"I was in Chavez's Venezuela a few days after a coup, and -- to be frank with you -- there was less tension there than there is around this courthouse," Amsterdam said, pointing to the police standing behind barriers lining both sides of the street and a group of about 100 anti-Khodorkovsky demonstrators with ready-made signs.

Outside the Meshchansky District Court, Khodorkovsky's father, Boris, responded angrily to the protesters.

"Let those who write those signs go and look for the money! Yuganskneftegaz was taken away from Yukos -- well, maybe somebody got an ice cream for that," he said, referring to the state-held auctioning-off of Yukos' main production unit last December to settle part of a whopping $28 billion in back taxes demanded from the oil major.

"When he came to Yukos there had been no salaries for months," Boris Khodorkovsky said. "He gave people salaries, jobs to more than 200,000 people. It is all lies when they say he did not pay up. I asked him, 'Did you pay out the money, did you pay off the debts to everyone, or are you just one of those who fled abroad?' He said everything was fine."

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal State Duma deputy, told reporters outside the courthouse that since the Kremlin's assault on Yukos began in 2003, the Russian economy had lost $100 billion.

"Listening to the verdict, it's like a chronicle of business in Russia, the usual business of the 1990s. And the most cynical thing in this situation is that those fat and corrupt bureaucrats basking in luxury are passing judgment on businesses that they profited from," he said.

"The state that established those laws and rules now wants to jail people who worked under those laws. ... This means that the country could go back to the days of the Soviet Union and claim that all property is illegal, all deals are illegal and all privatization is illegal. That is what this is all about."