Why Khodorkovsky verdict postponed

The verdict in the trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev will come down only after foreign dignitaries, expected to swarm Moscow for the May 9 VE-Day celebrations and the Russia-EU Summit, leave the country, both Gazeta and Vedomosti reported.

The postponement of the verdict came as a surprise, with several theories circulating in attempts to explain the development. Duma lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov suggested it was for religious reasons, so as not to punish Khodorkovsky in the run-up to Orthodox Easter. Many others pointed their fingers abroad, citing President Vladimir Putin's historic trip to Israel, where some embattled Russian oligarchs, including Khodorkovsky's ally, Leonid Nevzlin, have found asylum and citizenship.

Nevzlin says Russian officials do not want to raise the sensitive issue just before the impending celebrations, although many Russian analysts doubt that is the reason for the court's decision.

The Center for Political Technology's Deputy General Director Alexei Makarkin says neither the festivities - world leaders, he says, would hardly scuffle over a criminal issue during VE-Day celebrations - nor Putin's engagement in Israel effected the verdict timing.

Makarkin says the Kremlin simply hasn't decided what to do about the disenthroned oligarch and his partner.

"The Kremlin lacks consensus about what the sentence should be," he said.

But Renaissance Capital Chairman Oleg Kiselyov warns against hasty predictions in the case.

"Of course, hawks will say the sentence is meant to be so harsh that it should not be aired with many foreign leaders around, but hopefully the judges will build their decision on the most liberal part of the president's state-of-the-nation address," he said.

Though the verdict postponement is widely seen as a factor behind yesterday's RTS downgrade, analysts say the case's influence on the market mood should not be overestimated.

"This is no longer an issue," said Aton General Director Alexander Kandel, who argues the major players in the case expect a harsh verdict.

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