MOSCOW -- Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky may discover his fate today, when a Moscow court is expected to make its final statement on his guilt and sentence after two weeks spent reading the verdict in the politically charged trial.
The laborious oral reading of the court's findings, which began May 16, has so far left little doubt that Russia's once-richest man would be found guilty on charges including fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. His sentence will only be imposed at the end of the process.
Defense lawyers have complained that the lengthy reading was aimed at diverting public attention from the case, which critics say stems from the Kremlin's anger at Khodorkovsky for funding opposition parties.
John Pappalardo, a former US prosecutor and a member of Khodorkovsky's international legal team, at a news conference yesterday criticized both the prosecution's case against the tycoon and the court's handling of the trial.
Pappalardo said the court has stuck strictly to conclusions without explaining how they were reached, and called the prosecution's case flawed and deficient. ''The evidence that was introduced into the case doesn't meet the government's burden for a conviction," he said.
Khodorkovsky's lawyers are expected to 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 extend Khodorkovsky's custody in Moscow.
Lawyer Robert Amsterdam accused the authorities of seeking to keep Khodorkovsky detained in Moscow rather than sending him to start a prison term in a camp in the Russian hinterlands, where he said more pliant local authorities might grant him an early release.
''This is a very loose federation," Amsterdam said.
Even were Khodorkovsky to receive a suspended sentence, prosecutors have promised to bring new charges against him and business partner Platon Lebedev for alleged money laundering, which would see his detention extended for the duration of a new trial.
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 Lebedev rigged a privatization auction of a fertilizer component company, was the centerpiece of the case but could be dealt with quickly 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 $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.