Russia races to deliver Khodorkovsky sentence

Khodorkovsky & co-defendant Platon Lebedev have been in jail since 2003.

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2010, 00:04 AM IST

Moscow: A judge raced against time on Wednesday
to wrap up the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky by the New Year
and deliver a sentence that could keep Russia`s most famous
inmate in prison for several more years.

Judge Viktor Danilkin Monday handed down a guilty
verdict against Russia`s former richest man, in a ruling
condemned by the West. On Wednesday he continued to plough
through the verdict which will culminate in sentencing.

Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev have
been in prison since 2003 after being arrested and then
convicted on fraud charges that went a long way to defining
the presidency of current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The tycoon was scheduled for release next year and now
faces the outcome of an embezzlement and money laundering
trial that could keep him behind bars until 2017 and remove
him from politics ahead of approaching elections.

The trial has been watched around the world as a test
case of the Kremlin`s commitment to the court independence
championed by Putin`s presidential successor Dmitry Medvedev.

But the politically-sensitive case now faces the
prospect of drawing to a conclusion just as the country begins
to toast the New Year -- Russia`s biggest festival that also
involves national holidays stretching until January 11.

Khodorkovsky`s supporters have accused the court of
purposefully timing the trial to deliver the verdict when most
Russians` attention is elsewhere and newspapers take an
extended break.

But Danilkin has been reading the estimated 800-page
verdict at an impressive, if frequently inaudible, speed.

The defence said he had gone through 370 pages by this
afternoon, often mumbling his way through words at a murmur
that could hardly be deciphered by the throngs of reporters
squeezed into the tiny court room.

The verdict has seen the judge pile up incriminating
evidence against the pair and today he even suggested they
carried out financial crimes while in detention in 2005.

"The ruling is essentially repeating the indictment,
only substituting the words `the inquiry found` with the words
`the court found`," said defence lawyer Konstantin Rivkin.

The highly-technical sentence has seen the judge issue
what the defence believes are a set of unsubstantiated and
contradictory rulings that threaten to send the entire hearing
for a retrial.

Danilkin yesterday ruled that even government
officials who testified in Khodorkovsky`s defence -- including
former economy minister German Gref -- in fact supported the
case of the prosecution.

PTI