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A Few Hundred Pages to Go at Russian Tycoon's Marathon Verdict Reading

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 20, 2005

MOSCOW, May 19 -- The court trying former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky sleepwalked through a fourth day of verdict reading Thursday before a sometimes-raspy-voiced judge Irina Kolesnikova again adjourned the epic task.

Lawyers said the reading could continue for many more days. "By tomorrow, we may reach the one-third mark," one of Khodorkovsky's attorneys, Anton Drel, told reporters after the session Thursday. The formal finding of guilty or not guilty will come at the end.

Beginning around 10:30 a.m. each day this week and ending around 2 p.m., Kolesnikova or another member of the panel of three judges has read from what appears to be a 1,000-page verdict. Lawyers estimate that the judges are getting through about 50 pages a day.

A verdict in a Russian court contains the court's reasoning, an analysis of evidence and a discourse on the degree of guilt. The more complicated the case, the longer the verdict.

"I don't remember the duration record for reading verdicts in cases I have dealt with, but I can say that Moscow's Meshchansky Court beat it today," said Genrikh Padva, another defense attorney.

The Russian news media, in response, have begun to report on the quality of the lead judge's voice, which has been described as "a little raspy." Her rhetorical style has also been discussed, with reporters who have succeeded in getting into the small, stuffy courtroom describing it as bland.

Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant and former business partner, Platon Lebedev, face seven counts of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion. Their attorneys, interpreting the judges' choice of language so far, say the two men will be found guilty of most if not all the charges.

The document will also disclose sentences for any guilty verdicts. Prosecutors in the case, which some Khodorkovsky supporters contend was ordered up by the Kremlin, have asked for 10-year prison sentences.

Russian lawyers said that under Russian law, the presiding judge has no choice but to read all of the document, however Herculean the effort.

"This is a very complex case, so this is normal," said Boris Kuznetsov, a prominent Moscow lawyer, noting that the trial lasted 10 months.

Kuznetsov said Russian law did not allow the judge to summarize the verdict in the interest of speed. "She shouldn't even be sitting down when she reads her verdict," he said, noting another Russian stricture that the judges have relaxed for everyone in the courtroom. "Everyone should be standing. That's a violation."

The defendants, held in a cage, appear to be getting a tad punchy.

On Wednesday, responding to a question scribbled on a piece a paper about how many years in prison he expected to get, Khodorkovsky drew the infinity symbol in the air, according to a reporter for the Moscow Times. Of course, he could have been referring to the amount of time it will take the judge to finish.

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