Verdict-reading in Khodorkovsky trial resumes, could end Monday

A Moscow court resumed the laborious reading of the verdict in the trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Monday, amid high expectations that the process could conclude by the end of the day.

After 10 days of judges reading aloud the court's summary of evidence and testimony, defense lawyers said it was virtually certain that he would be found guilty on charges of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion and that the main question was whether he would receive the maximum 10-year sentence being sought by prosecutors. Khodorkovsky supporters say he is being targeted as punishment for funding opposition parties.

Anticipation that the end of the process was in sight rose Friday after the court completed its summation of the evidence and testimony on all but one of the charges.

The remaining charge, that Khodorkovsky and business partner Platon Lebedev rigged a privatization auction of a fertilizer component company, was the centerpiece of the case but could be dealt with quickly on Monday because officials have said the statute of limitations connected with the 1994 auction has expired.

Khodorkovsky, once the CEO of the Yukos oil company and with a fortune estimated as high as US$15 billion, has been in jail since his October 2003 arrest when special forces stormed his private plane as it sat on the tarmac at a Siberian airport. Lebedev had been arrested three months earlier.

Also on trial is Andrei Krainov, a former director of the company that acquired the shares in the fertilizer component maker. He faces only some of the same charges as Khodorkovsky and Lebedev and, unlike them, has not been in custody.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers are expected appeal a guilty verdict and sentence in the 10-day period allotted under Russian law. Any appeal, which would likely last months, would be heard in the Moscow City Court and would see Khodorkovsky's custody in Moscow extended.

Even were Khodorkovsky to receive a suspended sentence, prosecutors have promised to bring new charges against him and Lebedev for alleged money laundering, which would see his detention extended for the duration of a new trial.

ALEX NICHOLSON, Associated Press Writer

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