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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawyer Says He'll Defend Berezovsky

ReutersDudkin said Thursday that he would defend Berezovsky professionally, but told Izvestia the trial was "a formality."
A Moscow court on Thursday adjourned a trial in absentia of exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky on fraud charges, as the court-appointed defense lawyer said he would defend him "professionally."

The lawyer, Alexander Dudkin, had sounded a different note in an interview published in state-controlled newspaper Izvestia on Thursday, however, saying he could not care less about the trial.

The proceedings at Moscow's Savyolovsky District Court were adjourned until July 26 to give Dudkin time to study the case. Dudkin said he would ask for more time to read the 123 volumes of case files.

Berezovsky is accused of defrauding Aeroflot of hundreds of millions of rubles in the 1990s.

The former Kremlin power broker lives in Britain, where he was granted political asylum in 2003. A vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, he refused to have his lawyers defend him in the case and has said he considers the charges absurd and a guilty verdict predetermined.

Dudkin, 62, whose legal career spans 30 years, appeared to share Berezovsky's opinion about the outcome of the case. Asked whether he might win the case, he told Izvestia: "Are you kidding? That's impossible." In the interview, he committed himself to only a token involvement. "Between you and me, I absolutely don't give a damn. ... All this is a formality," he said, Izvestia reported.

But Dudkin changed his tone in the courtroom, speaking while waiting for the judge to enter. "I treat everything professionally," he said about defending Berezovsky.

Prosecutors accuse Berezovsky, who used to own a stake in Aeroflot, of embezzling 214 million rubles ($8.3 million at current exchange rates) from the airline, as well as of money laundering 16 million rubles of those funds from 1996 to 1999. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Outside the court, Dudkin said he did not know if the outcome in the case was predetermined and criticized the incriminating evidence. "Any lawyer will not be able to agree with the allegations made by the prosecution," he said. "There are many case papers but only about 10 witnesses."

As a court-appointed lawyer for someone who does not want to be represented in court, Dudkin is in an awkward position because he will be unable to discuss the case with his client.

"My situation allows me the utmost creativity," he said sarcastically.

Dudkin said he could have refused to represent Berezovsky, but he agreed out of "interest." He said he had never had billionaire clients before.

An Aeroflot representative in the trial, Alexander Yermolenko, said the airline would ask Judge Igor Sheremetyev for an order that would force Berezovsky to compensate the company for losses. He did not respond to a question about how realistic it would be to enforce such an order.

A Moscow court in 2004 convicted three Aeroflot managers of hiding the airline's revenues in two Swiss firms founded by Berezovsky, Forus and Andava. Britain in 2003 rejected a request for Berezovsky's extradition to stand trial on the same charges. Prosecutors later dropped them but have now charged Berezovsky again.