Russia delays Khodorkovsky appeal

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A Russian court Tuesday unexpectedly delayed the appeal hearing for ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky against his conviction in a fraud trial that aroused international condemnation.

Judge Vladimir Usov at Moscow City Court said that the appeal was adjourned until May 24 as the defence had submitted additional objections against the verdict for Khodorkovsky to stay in jail until 2017.

Khodorkovsky and his convicted business partner Platon Lebedev briefly appeared in the courtroom's cage before a packed audience of about 100 journalists and family members, an AFP correspondent said from the courtroom.

Khodorkovsky was convicted last year in a second fraud trial in a ruling which will keep him in jail until 2017.

His defence connected the sudden moving of the appeal hearing with Wednesday's press conference by President Dmitry Medvedev, his first solo public meeting with the media of his presidency.

"Dmitry Anatolyevich will be saved from unwanted questions tomorrow that would be voiced had the hearing happened today," said Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yury Shmidt.

"This is deja-vu, the same happened last winter before a well-known event," he said, clearly referring to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's national call-in session on December 16.

The Khamovnichesky District Court moved the reading of the verdict last year from December 15 to December 27, announcing the jail term just before the country plunged into extended New Year holidays.

Khodorkovsky, who built up Yukos into Russia's biggest oil firm before it was broken up by the state, was in December found guilty of money laundering and embezzlement on top of his first 2005 tax evasion conviction.

His supporters have long argued both sets of charges were trumped up by the state to punish Khodorkovsky for daring to finance opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and ridiculed the circumstances of the second trial.

Putin, who has never made a secret of his dislike of Khodorkovsky, said even before the verdict was announced that a "thief should be in prison", drawing criticism that he was interfering in the process.

Khodorkovsky's sentence of 14 years means he and Lebedev will stay in jail until 2017. Defence lawyers have said the verdict is riddled with errors but have not shown much hope of having it overturned.

Judge Viktor Danilkin who read the verdict in an often inaudible three-day speed-reading session, has been alleged by his employee to have been pressured by the higher court authorities, which he has vehemently denied.

The defence says the Khamovnichesky District Court reviewed over 1,060 pages of its objections in just one day and then passed the trial to the Moscow City Court.

"If we are not heard in the Moscow City Court, we will go to the European Court of Human Rights," Lebedev's lawyer Yelena Liptser told journalists Tuesday.

Business leaders have expressed fears that the new conviction will harm investment by shaking foreigners' faith in the rule of law in Russia.

© 2011 AFP

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