September 14, 2005

Russia court starts hearing jailed tycoon’s appeal

By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow court began hearing an appeal
on Wednesday by jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky against
his conviction for tax evasion and fraud amid speculation it
would be quickly rejected.

Khodorkovsky, 42, and his business partner and co-accused
Platon Lebedev were brought under heavy guard to the courtroom
in north-east Moscow suburb, that was ringed by OMON special

Khodorkovsky, who built up the oil giant YUKOS and was once
Russia's richest men, was sentenced to nine years in jail last
May after a campaign widely believed to have been mounted by
the Kremlin to neutralize him as a political rival.

The tycoon, dressed in a suede jacket, jeans and a navy
polo shirt and looking well but pale, listened to the hearing
with his co-accused from inside a metal cage with high panels
of reinforced glass in front.

With his appeal still pending, Khodorkovsky, who has been
in a Moscow remand jail since October 2003, has announced his
intention of running for a State Duma (parliament) seat in a
December 4 by-election in southern Moscow.

But his legal team said before the hearing began they
expected the appeal to be quickly rejected to thwart his
election bid. He will not be able to run for election if his
conviction had been confirmed.

"This is going to be a quick process ... They (the Kremlin)
want to stop Khodorkovsky running for the Duma and as the
Kremlin has demonstrated in the past if they want something
they do not even do it subtly," said Robert Amsterdam, a member
of his legal team.

Amsterdam said his defense would ask for the hearing to be
delayed on the grounds that his lawyers had not been given
adequate time to review transcripts from his trial and that his
rights had been violated.

As with his trial last May, metal crush barriers lined the
approach road to the courthouse and large numbers of OMON riot
police were out in force.