THE long-awaited verdict in the trial of the Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was postponed yesterday, prompting rumours that the high-profile case had been delayed to save president Vladimir Putin from embarrassment ahead of a visit to Moscow by dozens of world leaders next month.
A sheet of paper stuck to the door of Moscow’s tiny Meshchansky courthouse yesterday morning was the first anyone knew that the verdict on one of Russia’s richest men had been put back to next month.
The delay is likely to undermine confidence in Russia’s judicial system and dampen enthusiasm for investment.
No official explanation was forthcoming for the delay, prompting rumours to begin circulating.
"I think the judge is sick, that is what I heard," said one young official at Khodorkovsky’s press centre. His lawyers had a sterner explanation: they believe that the delay was ordered directly by Mr Putin, nervous that the verdict would leave him facing awkward questions when world leaders gather in Moscow on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of VE Day.
Khodorkovsky’s spokesman, Leonid Nevzlin, said: "By postponing the court’s ruling to a date after 9 May, when President Bush and other world leaders are expected to visit Russia, Putin once again shows the world that he holds his political opponents hostage. Only in a non-democratic country can the president intervene so blatantly in a legal process."
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