Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos boss and now full-time jailbird, has been pretty busy over the past couple of weeks. Yesterday saw the beginning of an appeal against his conviction for tax fraud and, predictably, the day ended in farce.
Cast your minds back to the original trial, earlier this year, and you’ll remember the judges droning on for day after day as they painstakingly read out every word of their judgment. Back then, they wanted to drag out the climax of the trail as long as possible as an attempt to dilute the media’s attention.
All of a sudden, though, it’s Khodorkovsky who wants to drag things out as long as possible.
Mr Khodorkovsky, dressed in jeans and a brown suede jacket, told the court: "I cannot defend my interests in the appeal without a lawyer familiar with this case."
The move angered state prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin, who called it "a banal attempt to stretch out the court hearing".
Mr Khodorkovsky’s legal team say they have yet to receive an agreed record of the original trial.
Why this sudden reluctance to face his day in court? Because Khodorkovsky has found a loophole in the law that will allow him to stand for election to the State Duma – and the loophole won’t close until his appeal is complete. Unfortunately for Khodorkovsky, though, the election is in December, and the appeal trial is extremely unlikely – under normal circumstances at least – more than a few weeks. So, expect an avalanche of delaying tactics from the Khodorkovsky camp, while the prosecutors in turn attempt to hurry things along.
Both camps, meanwhile, are waging a merry little media war, each trying to convince the world that Khodorkovsky is a martyr that the people will support in droves, or a chancer who has no real chance of halting the grinding wheels of Russian justice.
Protests, both pro- and anti- Khodorkovsky, are continuing to hit the streets hard. Neeka’s Backlog provides an eyewitness report (and another here) and a series of photos of this weekend’s events. She finishes off with this comment, which seems to demonstrate that perhaps Khodorkovsky doesn’t actually have all that much support among the Russian public… but that if protests against him continue, Putin may play right into his hands.
The most interesting thing about the rally was this: if it hadn’t been for all the police, and OMON, and the mad honking of the soccer fans, the pro-Khodorkovsky rally would’ve gone virtually unnoticed. Why Putin is giving all the publicity to the people everyone considers his enemies is beyond me.
That’s very nice of him, I think, though somewhat silly.
Finally, it looks as though Khodorkovksy may be starting a trend. Ex Intelligence Department Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, who is accused of trying to assassinate energy oligarch Anatoly Chubais is also considering standing for election, according to Kommersant.