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Russian Court Delays Khodorkovskii Verdict

Boris Khodorkovskii, Mikhail's father, with supporters at today's rally in Moscow Moscow, 27 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A Moscow court has postponed the announcement of a verdict in the high-profile trial of Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovskii that was originally planned for today.

The court instead issued a statement saying the hearing would take place on 16 May to give Judge Irina Kolesnikova more time to prepare the text accompanying her verdict.

A lawyer for Khodorkovskii, the former head of Yukos who figured prominently among the so-called industrial oligarchs who emerged during post-Soviet privatization efforts, welcomed the delay.

"I expected that this might happen because, in my opinion, it would have been impossible to complete the verdict in such a big case in such a short period of time set by the court; I was saddened that the court had set such a short deadline," Khodorkovskii lawyer Genrikh Padva said, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. "I was under the impression that the verdict had already been written. In this sense, I feel glad rather than sorry that the verdict is postponed until 16 May, as it means that the court will take a more serious and thorough approach to writing it."

Final arguments concluded on 11 April, when Judge Kolesnikova pledged to issue the court's decision today.

Khodorkovskii lawyer Padva said he was not surprised by the delay, however.

"It is difficult for the court to envisage ahead of time the amount of work it has to carry out while reaching a verdict," Padva said. "This case is very big, very complex; it is quite possible that they [the judges] didn't have enough time to draft the verdict. I, personally, expected such a development and wasn't surprised at all."

Khodorkovskii is facing charges of fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. He has been on trial for a year and in detention since late 2003, and had been due to appear in court today along with two associates for the announcement of the verdict.

Critics have accused the Kremlin of initiating the case against Khodorkovskii to punish him for financing opposition political parties ahead of parliamentary elections in 2003.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied this, saying Russian tax authorities were merely cracking down on a tax cheat.

"The whole country knows who set up the scandalous Yukos case and why," Khodorkovskii told the court on 11 April, the final day of his trial. "It was launched by certain influential people with the purpose of taking over Russia's most successful oil company and its profits. The whole country knows that they jailed me so I couldn't stop them from looting the company."

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a resolution in January describing Khodorkovskii's arrest as part of official attempts to silence political opponents and regain control of strategic economic assets.

In March, a U.K. court denied two extradition requests over alleged wrongdoing at Yukos, characterizing Russian authorities' legal efforts aimed at former Yukos executives as politically motivated.

Khodorkovskii was once worth an estimated $15 billion. Before his arrest and imprisonment in 2003, Khodorkovskii had started to fund opposition political parties.

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