June 1, 2005
Shock and Then Boredom in Court
By Catherine Belton
Even though the trio of judges made clear at the start of their 12-day reading of the verdict that Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev would be found guilty, it still came as a shock when the sentences were finally handed down Tuesday.
As Chief Judge Irina Kolesnikova pronounced a nine-year sentence for both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, murmurs spread across the packed courtroom and sobs were heard as Khodorkovsky's wife, Inna, crossed her arms tightly against her chest in a struggle to hold herself together.
Khodorkovsky, once one of the country's richest and most powerful men, turned pale, and his voice quivered slightly when the judge asked whether he understood her ruling.
"The sentence is clear. I consider it a monument to 'Basmanny justice,'" he said, using a term that has become a byword for arbitrary justice in Russia since that court sanctioned his arrest in October 2003.
Khodorkovsky was clearly suddenly hit by the reality of what was happening. His father, Boris, who was standing near the defendants' cage, leaned over and whispered something to his son. Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina, meanwhile, held onto her husband tightly as if to prop him up and looked at her son with tears in her eyes.
Lebedev, whose behavior during the trial switched erratically from wild laughter at the prosecution's claims to a banal scowl as he worked out crossword puzzles, smiled ironically in response to the ruling. "No sane person would understand what you are saying," he said when asked by Kolesnikova whether he understood his sentence. Kolesnikova read out the charges against him and the sentence again.
But shock turned to frustration and disbelief in the cramped and stuffy courtroom as the judges then started reading through evidence for another -- already defunct -- charge.
Many journalists left the room to file reports about the sentence. But for the relatives of the defendants and the few journalists who remained, the reading was a reminder of how the judges have taken great pains to appear to meticulously stick to the letter of the law throughout the yearlong trial.
The evidence was not going to make any difference to the final sentence, but it was read anyway. As relatives and lawyers itched to talk about the sentences, the judges spent the next three hours reading through the evidence about the charge that started it all -- the privatization of a 20 percent stake in Apatit. A conviction could not be made on the charge because a 10-year statute of limitations on the deal had run out.
As the sentences sank in, the two state prosecutors first stared gloomily at Khodorkovsky and Lebedev but soon began smiling with satisfaction. They had asked that the two each get 10 years in prison.
As the judges rattled through the Apatit evidence at breakneck speed, the prosecutors began surreptitiously flicking through a book of sketches made by an artist attending the trial. State prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin often smirked and giggled as he looked at the book, which he was holding under the table. As the judges' reading went into the second hour, the two grew bolder and looked through it openly on the desk.
Relatives began to talk among themselves over the droning voices of the judges.
Khodorkovsky slumped back against the bars of the cage, gradually regaining his composure as he got back to business. He spent most of the time in whispered conversation with the lawyer closest to him, Anton Drel, over the contents of a statement that would be read to the media later.
He also gestured in frustration at the judges' reading of the defunct charge, smiled at reporters and sent long, sympathetic looks to his wife, who wiped her eyes behind dark glasses from time to time.
Marina Khodorkovsky moved over to sit beside her. Boris Khodorkovsky appeared tired and sighed deeply several times.
Defense lawyers sighed and rolled their eyes. Bottles of water stood empty on their tables. One international defense lawyer left, saying she could not stay in the room any longer.
When the judges finally finished, Boris Khodorkovsky walked out with a sad frown. He told reporters outside that he felt responsible for what had happened to his son. Asked why, he said, "Because I should have told him to spit on this and leave." Pressed over why he had not, he said he was not brought up that way and had not raised his children that way either.
As everyone began to file out of the courtroom, Mikhail Khodorkovsky still seemed incredulous. "This is another example of Basmanny justice," he said to a Moscow Times reporter, clambering up to stand on his bench to get his message across as guards around his cage tried to block him off.
"This is hooliganism, and there is no legal basis for this," he said.