MOSCOW -- A Moscow court reading the verdict in the trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky adjourned its 11th day of the reading yesterday without making a final statement on guilt or sentencing.
Expectations had been high that the grinding process could be completed yesterday. But after about four hours of reading, the court called a break until today, with no clear indication of when the end would come.
Defense lawyers say the court's summation so far of evidence and testimony leaves no doubt that Khodorkovsky will be found guilty on charges of tax evasion, fraud, and embezzlement in the case that supporters claim is Kremlin revenge for his funding of opposition parties.
Prosecutors have asked for the maximum 10-year sentence and observers say the only real uncertainty left in the trial is whether the court will impose less than that.
Khodorkovsky, once chief executive 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.
The centerpiece of the case had been charges connected to the 1994 acquisition of shares in a lucrative fertilizer component maker through a privatization auction that Khodorkovsky and codefendant Platon Lebedev allegedly rigged.
That episode has not been addressed by the court and the expiration of the 10-year statute of limitations appears to mean he could not be sentenced if found guilty. After the court completed addressing other charges on Friday, expectation rose that the charges relating to the fertilizer company could be dealt with perfunctorily.
However, the court spent most of yesterday considering charges against 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.
The court also reviewed defense challenges to the admissibility of some evidence, but dismissed the complaints, including one motion alleging a defense lawyer's office had been searched without a proper warrant. Similarly, expert assessments on particular episodes that the defense had sought to have included in the case materials were rejected.
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 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.
A liberal member of parliament, Vladimir Ryzhkov, suggested yesterday that Khodorkovsky's team consider filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, ''which will make a decision on the basis of common sense and law," the Interfax news agency reported.