[JURIST] A Russian court Wednesday postponed until May 16 a scheduled verdict in the controversial tax fraud prosecution of oil magnate and former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky [JURIST news archive]. The postponement was announced by a simple notice on a Moscow courthouse door which cited no reasons for the delay. Observers speculate that the postponement may be an attempt to avoid embarrassing Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to arrive in Israel Wednesday evening (Khodorkovsky is Jewish) and will be returning to host a gathering of some 50 world leaders in Moscow on May 9 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe during World War II. Russia has come under considerable international pressure over the trial, which is said to have been politically motivated since Khodorkovsky had helped fund a political party opposed to Putin. On an official visit to Russia last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with Russian media [State Dept. transcript] that the US was following the Khodorkovsky case closely to see what it said about the current state of the rule of law in thje country. In a statement posted on Khodorkovsky's defense website, Khodorkovsky associate and spokesman Leonid Nevlin said:
Only in a non-democratic country, can the president intervene so blatantly in a legal process and control the courts to the extent that he predetermines the verdict and the dates of the court decision regarding his political enemies. Putin has once again demonstrated, that Russia is not a democracy, and that he is its sole ruler. By postponing the court's ruling to a date after May 9th, when President Bush and other world leaders are expected to visit Russia, Putin once again shows the world that he holds his political opponents hostage, using them as bargaining chips for the achievement of his ambitions.AP has more.