Russian oil tycoon faces guilty verdict

The trial of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky for fraud and tax evasion will end on Wednesday.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky is facing trial for fraud and tax evasion

    The former owner of oil-giant YUKOS is widely expected to be found guilty, but the sentence is less predictable.

    Prosecutors have asked for the maximum 10-year jail term, but the decision lies with Judge Irina Kolesnikova. Russian judges usually deliver the sentence at the same time as the verdict, or straight after it.

    Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was arrested 17 months ago, charged with fraud and tax evasion and held in prison.

    His YUKOS oil firm has since been crushed under the weight of a $27.5 billion back-tax bill. Analysts say his fall from grace and the legal assault on YUKOS was Kremlin punishment for the tycoon's political ambitions.

    Wrongdoing denied

    Khodorkovsky's lawyers say their client is innocent but are resigned to a guilty verdict, which they say has already been dictated by Kremlin, which denies unduly influencing proceedings.

    "I visited him and he is very calm and shows the courage and dignity that is typical of him," Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yuri Schmidt said.

    With a jail term inevitable in most observers' eyes, the focus is on its length.

    Khodorkovsky will listen to his fate from the metal cage in the courtroom where he has watched the trial since it started last June, alongside his co-defendant Platon Lebedev, a YUKOS minority shareholder facing almost identical charges.

    Many other YUKOS shareholders and managers have fled Russia, firing accusations and legal suits at the Kremlin from the safety of exile in Israel or the United States.

    The fall of YUKOS and Khodorkovsky has undermined investor confidence in Russia, home to vast mineral and energy resources, and sensitised the stock market to any official moves against companies that are seen as less than "loyal" to the Kremlin.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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