The fate of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was left hanging in the balance on Wednesday after a court in Moscow found him guilty of theft and money laundering in a politically tinged trial that is seen as a weathervane for Russia's future course.
Viktor Danilkin, the trial judge, told the packed court that Khodorkovsky, 47, and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, 54, "carried out the embezzlement of property entrusted to the defendants".
But the trial remains delicately poised because Danilkin will not sentence until he finishes reading his full 250-page verdict, which could take several days.
Opposing factions in the Kremlin are said to be in dispute over how much longer the businessman, who has already spend seven years in jail on earlier fraud charges, should stay behind bars.
Khodorkovsky, wearing a scuffed black jacket, and Lebedev, in a white tracksuit top, whispered to each other inside the enclosed dock and ignored the judge as he said the court had established their guilt.
Hundreds of protesters outside the court in the Khamovniki district of southern Moscow shouted "freedom" and "Russia without Putin". Police arrested about 20 people, dragging them out of the crowd and crushing their placards.
Speaking during a recess, Khodorkovsky's lead lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said: "The trial was a charade of justice, the charges were absolutely false, but I fear the sentencing will be very real."
Supporters of Khodorkovsky, who part-owned the Yukos oil company and was once Russia's richest man, say the Kremlin controls the court system and singled him out for punishment because he funded opposition politicians.