MOSCOW -- In a move that may signal a retreat, prosecutors in the trial of Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov have filed a motion to halt the proceedings and send the case back for more investigation.
The prosecutor, Leonid Ponkratov, told the three-judge panel at the closed trial yesterday that additional work was needed to prove the indictment against Mr. Mirzayanov. The Russian scientist is charged with leaking state secrets in revelations to two Russian newspapers and The Sun in 1992 that accused Russia of pursuing new chemical weapons while publicly disavowing them. The judges in the case, who under Russian law must approve the prosecutor's motion, immediately adjourned for the day to consider the application. They will announce their decision Monday.
"It's hard to say what will happen," said Alexander Asnis, the attorney for Mr. Mirzayanov. "But I hope that the court will agree." He added that if the "big gaps" in the case persuade the judges to return the indictment for more scrutiny, he will press for the immediate release of his client. Mr. Mirzayanov has been held in Matrosskaya Prison since Jan. 27, when he refused a subpoena to attend the trial, which he considers unconstitutional.
Legal observers say they were not surprised by the prosecutor's request. "Public opinion is looking at this case attentively. And the prosecution understands that, despite the fact that it's a closed trial," said Mikhail Paleev of the State Legal Agency, an advisory group set up by President Boris N. Yeltsin in 1992. And although the prosecutor stopped short of canceling the indictment, Mr. Paleev believes that "this might be a chance for the prosecutor to drop the case during a new investigation."
Under the law, if the judges grant Mr. Pankratov's motion to reinvestigate the case, the prosecutor's office has two months to bring a new indictment or close the books on the matter.
Speculation about the outcome of the trial has been growing, especially after Itar-Tass, the Russian news agency, reported last week that Mr. Yeltsin considered the trial "anti-constitutional."