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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Khodorkovsky Appeal Off to a Chaotic Start

MTMikhail Khodorkovsky being led into the Moscow City Court on Wednesday. With his main lawyer in the hospital, the court decided to postpone the appeal.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky's appeal got off to a chaotic start Wednesday after the only lawyer authorized to defend him failed to turn up due to poor health.

The three-judge panel at the Moscow City Court eventually ruled to reconvene the hearing Monday. Their decision came after hours of stop-start proceedings in which the judges tried to figure out where Khodorkovsky's defense team was and mulled the delicate question of whether they could proceed without any defense counsel in the biggest trial in post-Soviet history.

State prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin accused Khodorkovsky of stalling for time, and asked the judges to go ahead with appeal after the jailed tycoon's sole defense counsel, Genrikh Padva, failed to show up. "This is a banal attempt to drag out the court hearing," Shokhin told the judges in the well-appointed courtroom in the new Moscow City Court in northeast Moscow.

Outside on Bogorodsky Val, riot police with nightsticks formed a cordon around the building as small groups of demonstrators, for and against Khodorkovsky, held banners and tooted horns.

Khodorkovsky was convicted on tax evasion and fraud charges and sentenced to nine years in prison in May after a highly politicized trial.

Appearing before the judges in a glass-and-metal defendants' box, Khodorkovsky said Padva had been hospitalized for a serious condition, a contention that was later confirmed by the judges. Khodorkovsky looked pale but determined as he asked judges to allow him time to find another lawyer to replace Padva, who he claimed was so far the only counsel capable of presenting his case.

Wednesday's adjournment means that the appeal process is likely to drag on for several weeks, rather than be wrapped up and rejected in a period of a few days, as his lawyers feared.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers have claimed the appeal process has been deliberately speeded up to prevent him from running for a seat in the State Duma in a Moscow by-election scheduled for Dec. 4. If the court rejects his appeal, he will not be allowed to run. Khodorkovsky has until Oct. 29 to register as a candidate.

Khodorkovsky said Wednesday that the rush to set the appeal in motion meant that Padva had been the only one out of nine lawyers on his defense team who was fully briefed, while the others had had time to study only part of the trial record. The defense team has filed a motion calling for the proceedings to be postponed, on the grounds that the appeal was improperly scheduled and that the trial record supplied to the defense by the court was incomplete and shot through with discrepancies.

"I signed an agreement with only one lawyer to represent my interests in this court," Khodorkovsky told the judges. "The reason is clear. ... The lawyers have been limited in their ability to familiarize themselves with the protocols. They have each looked at some of them. None of the lawyers, apart from Padva, is ready to represent my interests ... to appeal against the conviction."

Padva, known for his eloquence over nearly 50 years of legal experience, led the closing argument for the defense in Khodorkovsky's trial.


A guard leading Platon Lebedev in the Moscow City Court on Wednesday.

When asked whether proceedings could go ahead without Padva, Khodorkovsky replied, "I consider that I cannot defend my interests in the appeal court ... without the participation of the lawyer who is familiar with the case."

The judges pressed Khodorkovsky to come up with an alternate lawyer and end the delays. During a series of breaks, they called the hospital to check how ill Padva actually was and telephoned Khodorkovsky's defense team, telling them to show up in court.

Two junior lawyers, Yelena Levina and Denis Dyatlev, eventually showed up after receiving calls from the court. But they told the judges they did not have an agreement with Khodorkovsky to represent him in the appeal and said they were unable to do so, as they did not have enough time to see the complete trial record.

"You can see how determined they are to make sure this is over quickly," said Robert Amsterdam, a member of Khodorkovsky's international legal team, referring to the judges' actions. The whole process had been "illegitimately" speeded up, he said.

Gesturing toward the riot police outside the court, Amsterdam said, "This continues to demonstrate that this case involves something the Kremlin fears."

"If any enemy of the state runs and wins, then they look like fools. ... They are afraid to find out the will of the people," he said.

Khodorkovsky and his fellow defendant, Platon Lebedev, were whisked into the court in handcuffs earlier in the day, where they were held in a reinforced glass-and-metal tank. They addressed the court through microphones.

Lebedev's appearance was unexpected, and he immediately demanded to be taken out of the courtroom and said he had been brought there against his will. He said in a statement Tuesday that he refused to take part in the proceedings, which he has called a "show."

"I categorically refuse to take part in these proceedings, and I categorically forbid my lawyers from taking part in it," Lebedev said, looking gaunter than when the trial finished in May. "I ask you to immediately escort me out of this courtroom." The judges eventually acceded to his request.

The start of proceedings was delayed for 40 minutes Wednesday morning as court officials waited for Khodorkovsky's defense team to arrive. While they looked at the clock, Khodorkovsky smiled reassuringly at his mother, Marina, who was sitting across the courtroom.

Later in the day, Marina told reporters she still feared for her son's health after he went on a hunger strike for several days last month. "I can see he's thinner, but he won't tell me if he's in pain," she said, adding that she was allowed to order only 25 meters of toilet paper for her son per month.

After the judges allowed Khodorkovsky to consult with the junior lawyers, the tycoon told the court Padva would have a biopsy performed on Thursday, after which he would know whether he was well enough to represent his client Friday or Monday. If his condition is deemed serious, Padva might be unable to work for more than a month.

Khodorkovsky, however, also appeared to have his own defense strategy ready. He told the judges he had brought 40 pages of notes relating to just one of the charges against him. When asked whether he intended to hold forth for days, Khodorkovsky said, "Yes."

The judges requested that Khodorkovsky call the rest of his defense team to the court on Monday so a decision could immediately be made on who would represent him.

Apparently concerned that all his lawyers might not be allowed into the court, Khodorkovsky said his lawyers had only documents that showed they were representing his interests in the appeal they were preparing for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

The judges told him not to worry because they would be let in. "This is not Strasbourg here," one of the judges said, prompting stifled giggles in the court.