UPDATE: Khodorkovsky appeal hearing put off to Sept. 22

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MOSCOW, September 20 (RIA Novosti) -- The Moscow City Court Tuesday postponed until September 22 the appeal hearings of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, both fighting a nine-year prison sentence.

The postponement effectively meant that the court had granted Khodorkovsky's request to be defended only by "skilled lawyers."

The original hearing, scheduled for September 14, was postponed because Genrikh Padva, Khodorkovsky's lawyer for the appeal, was in the hospital.

Padva told RIA Novosti he was postponing an operation recommended by the doctors and was planning to leave the hospital.

Earlier he said he could make it to court by September 22.

Padva also said that statute of limitation on Khodorkovsky's main charge - the fraudulent acquisition of 44% shares of a research institute - would expire September 21.

This, he said, meant the court might have to clear Khodorkovsky of the charge on which he was given a seven-year sentence. Two more years were added by court on other charges.

State prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin said: "It is clear that the defense has been deliberately trying to drag out the trial, and delay and disrupt the hearing."

According to Shokhin, Padva underwent a medical examination in Israel in January and in Moscow in March, and did not need to be hospitalized.

The postponement could give Khodorkovsky a slight hope of running in a December parliamentary by-election.

Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, is trying to register for the December poll. If he wins the election before his sentence comes into force, the 42-year-old will get parliamentary immunity. Otherwise he will have to serve his full term in prison.

Registration for the race in the traditionally liberal University district of Moscow lasts until October 4.

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