Three justices on Monday took turns reading from the detailed prosecution indictment of the former Yukos boss even as Khodorkovsky's lawyers asserted that the case was a Kremlin vendetta that would result in guilty verdicts on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

But the day's proceedings were suspended after three hours and before pronouncement of a final verdict on any of the 11 counts against Khodorkovsky.

The trial, the most prominent since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, brings into sharp focus some of the most contentious issues in Russia since then, ranging from privatisation in the 1990s that made overnight billionaires, to judicial reforms and basic respect for human rights.

The verdict hearing was scheduled to resume on Tuesday morning.

Lengthy process

Only around one-fourth of the indictment was read on Monday and experts in the Russian court system said it could be several days before a verdict in the case is announced.

Yukos was once Russia's largest
and richest company  

Khodorkovsky's lawyers emerged from the courthouse and condemned the proceedings as politically-motivated with pre-ordained result.

"You can say the court has already de facto judged Khodorkovsky guilty of the counts read this morning," lawyer Yevgenv Baru said.

Maria Ordzhonikidze, a spokesman for a team of American lawyers advising the jailed tycoon's defence team, stated: "If the court reads the indictment it means they agree with the prosecution because they are using it as their own statement."

Keenly watched

The case has come under wide international scrutiny also because it is seen as a bellwether of investor confidence and the future relationship between the public and private sectors in economic policy.

Khodorkovsky, 41, and his close aide, Platon Lebedev, 46, face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. They have been charged with 11 counts of tax evasion and massive fraud under seven articles in the Russian criminal code.

"You can say the court has already de facto judged Khodorkovsky guilty of the counts read this morning"

Yevgenv Baru
Khodorkovsky lawyer

Both men have denied charges against them. They have been held in jail since their arrests in 2003.

Khodorkovsky aides say Russian President Vladimir Putin is punishing the ex-Yukos boss for his foray into politics.

The Yukos oil company, once Russia's largest and widely considered a model of transparent corporate governance, has since been partially dismantled after the state reacquired control of its core crude production unit, ostensibly to recover part of a back tax bill of $28 billion.