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terms invoked by prosecutors. On April 21, 2009, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev pleaded not guilty,while emphasizing that the charges remained incomprehensible and unexplained.
The prosecution’s presentation of its case, which ran from April 21, 2009 to March 29, 2010,resembled a poorly-organized and unsuccessful fishing expedition rather than logically structured proceedings actually proving the occurrence of any elements of crime. Despite filling time by readingfrom a 188-volume case file, and parading numerous witnesses into court, prosecutors were unable(and did not even try) to prove how it was possible that Yukos covered its operating costs, investedheavily in capital expenditures and acquisitions and paid taxes and dividends when the entire oil production of Yukos over a six-year period was being stolen, as alleged in the indictment. The prosecution’s witnesses proffered either no testimony germane to the accusations, or testimony thatactually contradicted the accusations. Despite having over 11 months to read documents and questionwitnesses in court, the prosecutors plainly failed to prove their charges. This did not prevent prosecutors from proclaiming in their closing arguments that they had proven the guilt of thedefendants—while being unable to sum up precisely how they supposedly did so.In the face of official misconduct and due process violations, as the trial unfolded the defense presented highly substantiated motions for the recusal of prosecutors and of the judge
to no avail.Appearances of an adversarial trial were for the most part cosmetic efforts by the authorities to portraythe process as legitimate. The defendants were permitted to speak in court almost without restrictions, but the judge blocked their lawyers from introducing exculpatory documentary evidence and refusedto hear many witnesses and experts. The defense was allowed to file motions and objections, but thevast majority of these motions and objections were routinely denied or ignored. These motions andother defense pleadings were posted online by the defense, along with English translations, illustratingthe absurdities of the process that was unfolding.The “case-closed” mentality of the prosecutors ultimately reigned in the courtroom, given the judge’s biased handling of the multitude of due process violations that marked the proceedings. The defense’s protestations over the contradictions and outright irrationality of the case were brushed aside by prosecutors and the judge, who refused to address these issues directly. Independent observers visitingthe trial described the proceedings as evocative of the works of Kafka and Gogol and anembarrassment to Russia. Nevertheless, despite each successive setback, the defendants made everyeffort to engage with prosecutors and the court, and they presented a vigorous, methodical, andmeticulously substantiated defense from April 5 to September 22, 2010.Irrespective of the efforts of the defense, which were notably bolstered by the candor of former andcurrent government officials who supported the defendants through in-court testimony, the proceedings continued to be undermined by unfair and unlawful decisions and maneuvers thatirreparably frustrated Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s rights to a fair trial. A feeling of futility reignedin the courtroom as the defense presented its closing arguments in what had become a mock judicial process devoid of meaningful adversarial engagement on the substance of the case.The reading of the verdict was initially scheduled for December 15, 2010 but a note posted on thecourtroom door that day announced a postponement to December 27, 2010. The next day, December 16, 2010, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly intervened in the case during his annual nationally-televised question-and-answer session. With the judge still deliberating on the verdict, the PrimeMinister directly mentioned the current charges and stated that Khodorkovsky’s guilt had been provenin court and that he must stay in jail.