A note taped to a Moscow courthouse door was all that awaited the hundreds of family, friends, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who arrived on Wednesday expecting to hear the verdict in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man.
The long-awaited judgment had been postponed to May 16, the note said without explanation, in the latest Gogolesque twist in the legal attack on Mr Khodorkovsky and the Yukos oil company he created.
Since Yukos’s main production asset was auctioned off for $9.35bn (£4.9bn) last December to an unknown company registered at the address of a bar and mobile phone shop located in a provincial Russian town, followers of the case have learned to expect the unexpected.
Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, have been in prison for more than 18 months, and must now wait three more weeks to learn their fate. The prosecution has asked for 10-year prison terms for the men on fraud and tax evasion charges in what is widely seen in Russia as a politically motivated case.
The postponement sparked intense speculation in Moscow over the reasons and its implications.
Analysts have suggested the Kremlin wanted to avoid a verdict before May 9, when president Vladimir Putin hosts George Bush, US president, and other world leaders to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.