Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Russian oil baron's trial postponed until Dec. 27

By Kathy Lally
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 4:35 AM

MOSCOW -- Reporters and international observers who arrived at court here early Wednesday morning, hoping to get a seat for the resumption of the trial of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, found a piece of paper tacked to the courtroom door. The proceedings, it said, would be postponed until Dec. 27.

Judge Viktor Danilkin announced the decision in a fax to Moscow's Khamovnichesky Court, where he was supposed to begin rendering a verdict in the second trial of Khodorkovsky. The oil baron, once Russia's wealthiest man, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in prison after getting on the wrong side of former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

With his sentence due to expire in October 2011, new charges were brought against him, apparently to keep him behind bars during the 2012 presidential election.

On Tuesday, a roster of world leaders and intellectuals sent President Dmitry Medvedev an open letter in which they suggested that if Khodorkovsky is convicted yet again, the world's confidence in Russia's commitment to justice will suffer.

"We cannot stand idly by when rule of law and human values are being so openly abused and compromised," said the letter, whose more than 50 signatories included former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. "Stable and reliable partnerships with Russia can exist only where our fundamental common values are shared and applied."

The letter was addressed to Medvedev not only because, as president, he is guarantor of the constitution but also because he has made it his mission to modernize and open up Russia. Yet many here anticipate that Khodorkovsky will be convicted, with the only question being whether he will be given the 14-year sentence prosecutors want, or a lesser term.

Khamovnichesky Court spokeswoman Natalya Vasilyeva would not give further details on the unexpected postponement of the Khodorkovsky trial Wednesday, telling the Interfax news agency, "The court is not explaining the reasons [behind it]."

By announcing the decision to delay the verdict until Dec. 27 by fax, Vasilyeva said, Judge Danilkin did not violate the consultation room secrecy.

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