The trial began one recent morning as it has every day. The two billionaires were escorted into the courtroom cage where defendants sit on hard benches. The prosecutor, wearing a blue military-style uniform as is customary, swept in, three stars on his shoulder. The three judges, all young women in black robes, slid into their leather seats.

The prosecutor called for volumes 14 through 18 of the evidence, flipped open the first of the binders and began reading aloud. And reading. And reading.

Every day for the past month it has been the same. In a monotone recitation, prosecutor Dmitri Shokhin reads to the court from the thousands of documents -- financial statements, legal papers, newspaper articles -- that make up the case against oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev.

Shokhin offers no commentary, no explanation of what all the arcane material might mean. He simply reads, and everyone else tries to fight off sleep. Russia's trial of the century so far has proved to be more of a trial of the somnolent.

Defense attorneys have drifted off; friends of the defendants have put their heads down on the bench in front of them. The judges often stare off blankly into the distance and yawn. One day a guard slept so deeply that his snoring woke everyone else up.

Such is Russian justice. The emphasis is not on stirring courtroom rhetoric or clever cross-examination. It's on paperwork, the sheer bulk of it, the more the better. In this case, prosecutors have collected 227 binders of documents to support fraud and tax evasion charges against Khodorkovsky and another 167 binders concerning similar allegations against Lebedev.

Reporters by and large have stopped attending. And thus the trial of Russia's richest man, culminating a grand political struggle between Khodorkovsky and President Vladimir Putin, a trial that could help determine the future of Russian capitalism, has dropped off the Moscow radar screen.

"All the presented materials prove only one thing: that the prosecutors worked a lot but uselessly," Vladimir Krasnov, an attorney for Lebedev, told reporters outside the courtroom.

One of Khodorkovsky's partners brought his own entertainment one recent day. Vasily Shakhnovsky powered up a laptop computer, pulled out a small earpiece and popped in a bootleg DVD copy of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." As the prosecutor began the day's droning, the image of U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft flashed across Shakhnovsky's screen.

Every once in a while, the defense has tried to bring the tedium to a merciful end.

"Considering that neither the court nor our side is interested in making the trial go on longer than necessary, may I suggest there is no need to listen to materials we all know," one of Khodorkovsky's attorneys, Genrikh Padva, implored the judges one day recently.

The presiding judge said it was up to the prosecutor.

Shokhin, smiling, stood up and declared that he was confused. "Sometimes the defense criticizes me for not providing full information and now it's too much," he said sarcastically.

And then he began reading again.

For all the focus on details, details may not matter much. More than a dozen years after the end of the Soviet Union, Russian judges still find defendants guilty 99.2 percent of the time, official figures show. No one in the courtroom, least of all Khodorkovsky, seems to believe he will be among the 0.8 percent.

Khodorkovsky has passed the days with little apparent interest, often reading a book or chatting with Lebedev. A few weeks ago, he was intently poring over "Russia Under the Old Regime," the Richard Pipes study of the development of authoritarianism and the roots of the police state in Russia. Lately, he has turned to lighter fare, particularly the detective novels of Boris Akunin.

Khodorkovsky, 41, is slight-framed man and in the courtroom cage seems especially small, slumped over in a black shirt and bluejeans. His face is pale, his graying hair shorn close to the scalp.

He is rarely roused enough to interject himself into the proceedings. But one day when Shokhin read aloud an article from one publication, Khodorkovsky finally cut in. "That article, just like many other articles, is full of inaccuracies," he complained.

Lebedev, 44, appearing sickly and wearing a gray tracksuit, spends most of his time doing crossword puzzles and sipping soured milk called prostokvasha. But he's more prone than his co-defendant to spring to his feet to insert his views. "In some cases he presents materials that can't possibly be called documents," Lebedev objected one day in response to something Shokhin had read.

Shokhin is trying to prove that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev cheated the state by dodging taxes and rigging the 1994 auction of a state fertilizer company. But the documents he has read aloud have covered a wide spectrum of subjects.

Volume 11 included a color copy of Lebedev's passport, his marriage certificate and the birth certificates of his two children. (Lebedev complained that it was an old, invalid passport.) Other documents detailed plans by Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, to buy or lease a private jet. Another included a plan for a swimming pool at a company facility. Yet another discussed the purchase of Alpine trees for a reception hall.

Defense attorneys follow along on their laptop computers, on which they view scanned copies of the documents. Lawyer Anton Drel habitually chews gum. The lawyers appeared to find Khodorkovsky's income tax forms fascinating when the subject turned to them, but were less enthralled with Shokhin's history lesson on the discovery of phosphate in the Murmansk region, where the fertilizer firm was located.

Relief seemed to loom Tuesday when Shokhin closed Volume 227 and announced that he had finished reading the Khodorkovsky evidence. Then Shokhin called for the Lebedev volumes and began reading all over again, never mind that they were essentially the same documents.

An exasperated Lebedev lashed out. The court had already heard some documents about Khodorkovsky at least twice, he said. "And now we shall hear them again? Some reasonable order has to be established. It's okay one time, okay two times. But more?"

He sat down. The judges said nothing. Shokhin smiled a bit, then plowed into Volume 140.

The hours wore on. The documents sounded familiar. Then Shokhin abruptly closed Volume 23 and announced that he was done. "I believe the prosecution has presented enough evidence and we can proceed to the next stage, the questioning of witnesses."

Around the courtroom, people came suddenly awake.

Even tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in the defendant's cage, has not shown much interest in the trial.