MOSCOW – The verdict reading in the politically charged trial Monday of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (search) adjourned until Tuesday, but lawyers and supporters said they had heard enough to be certain he would be found guilty.
Khodorkovsky's trial on charges including fraud and tax evasion has been the most intensely watched trial of post-Soviet Russia. His advocates say he is the victim of a Kremlin-directed revenge campaign to punish him for supporting opposition parties and to cut off any personal political ambitions.
The adjournment was called about three hours after the judge began reading the verdict aloud. Under the Russian legal system, the verdict is not a simple pronouncement of guilt or acquittal but a long statement of the facts of the case before the decision is stated.
Judge Irina Kolesnikova's reading included phrases such as "lying information" and "acting as part of a criminal group" that Khodorkovsky's lawyers saw as a sure sign that he would be found guilty.
"There is a school of thought that says they haven't been found guilty, but the conventional wisdom is that they will be," said John Papallardo, an American lawyer for Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev.
"Judging by the episodes read it out by the court, it can be understood that the verdict carries the character of guilty," defense lawyer Timofei Lebedev was quoted as saying by the news agency ITAR-Tass.
Hundreds of supporters and opponents of Khodorkovsky gathered behind police barricades outside the Meshchansky District Court building in Moscow. Police roughly detained some demonstrators when they refused to leave the area at the end of the time authorities had permitted for demonstrations.
Both at home and abroad, the case has raised questions about President Vladimir Putin's (search) commitment to the rule of law. It also has disturbed foreign investors.
Khodorkovsky faces seven charges in all, as does Lebedev.
Khodorkovsky, sitting in a courtroom cage as do defendants in all Russian trials, was dressed in a brown suede jacket and blue jeans. He smiled at family members in the courtroom and jokingly mimed to his wife to take off her sunglasses.
"The sentence for Khodorkovsky is awaited by practically all the citizens of the country. Without exaggeration, it is a signal event that will determine the direction of the country's development for many years to come," the Izvestia daily commented.
Khodorkovsky arrived at a hidden side entrance to the court in a van from the jail cell where he has been held for 19 months. As always, he was hustled from the van straight into the building, while a crowd of journalists and a heavier-than-usual police contingent waited outside.
Defense lawyers have said it could take up to three days for Kolesnikova to read the verdict, allowing time for an explanation of her decision under each charge. Russian judges are required to read the verdicts out loud.
Prosecutors have called for Khodorkovsky, 41, to receive the maximum 10-year sentence. The prosecutor-general's office said Friday that it also planned to file new charges against Khodorkovsky, in a move defense lawyers called a crude attempt to ensure that the Meshchansky Court sends him to prison on Monday.
"The verdict will not represent the evidence, the government has not proved their case against them. The best the government has proved is that the criminal activity did not occur, but unfortunately that won't be reflected in the verdict," Sanford Saunders, an American lawyer in Khodorkovsky's defense team, told Associated Press Television News.
The sentence had originally been scheduled for April 27, but was postponed at the last moment. The delay was widely believed to be due to the fact that Putin was soon due to host dozens of foreign leaders in Moscow for VE Day celebrations and the Kremlin did not want any unpleasant questions about the jailed tycoon to spoil its pomp-filled celebration.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, whose verdict also was expected Monday, are charged with rigging a privatization auction in 1994, 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.
Khodorkovsky was one of the so-called oligarchs who made vast fortunes in the 1990s through often-murky deals stemming from the privatization of state enterprises. But he later tried to shed his robber-baron image by turning Yukos (search) into what was regarded as Russia's best-run major company and by starting a foundation to promote civil-society initiatives.
Khodorkovsky was arrested in October 2003 in a dramatic raid on his jet while it sat on the tarmac of a Siberian airport. While he has been in custody, Yukos has been hit with huge claims for back taxes.
Yukos was stripped of its giant Siberian production unit Yuganskneftegaz to pay part of its tax bills. The company that once had a market value of $40 billion is now valued at just $2 billion; investors expect it to fall to zero.