Russia frees Khodorkovsky after Putin signs pardon

 

The BBC's Oleg Boldyrev says many Russians will be sceptical about the reasons for Khodorkovsky's release

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Former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been released from jail following a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin, his lawyers say.

Mr Putin signed a decree earlier pardoning Khodorkovsky on the basis of "the principles of humanity".

The president said on Thursday that the former oil magnate had asked him for clemency because his mother was ill.

Khodorkovsky - in custody for a decade - was jailed for tax evasion and theft after funding opposition parties.

Analysis

A former oil magnate and once Russia's richest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was first jailed for fraud and tax evasion 10 years ago after he fell out with President Putin.

He's always claimed he is innocent.

When his prison term was extended after a new trial in 2010, many analysts concluded Mr Putin thought him too dangerous a rival to be allowed his freedom.

It seems likely he is being released now as part of a wider amnesty of high profile prisoners, to brush up Russia's human rights image ahead of next year's winter Olympics in Russia.

Possibly Mr Putin also thinks that after 10 years in jail, Mr Khodorkovsky's star has faded, and inside Russia most people will pay him little attention. That has yet to be tested.

Surprise

The pardon comes after Russian MPs backed a wide-ranging amnesty for at least 20,000 prisoners.

Analysts say Mr Putin may be trying to ease international criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi.

A document published by the Kremlin on Friday said the decree would come into force from the day of its signing.

His lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said prison officials had confirmed that Khodorkovsky, 50, had left the penal colony where he was being held in the Karelia region of north-western Russia.

The former tycoon had eaten lunch at the prison in Segezha as normal on Friday while his release papers were being drawn up, Russian news website Lenta.ru reports quoted an official as saying.

Khodorkovsky was jailed after being convicted of stealing oil and laundering money in 2010. He had been in prison since 2003 when he was arrested and later convicted on charges of tax evasion. He was due to be released next August.

Exteriors of prison after Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky reportedly released Khodorkovsky was being held in a penal colony in north-western Russia

Mr Putin's announcement on Thursday that his former political opponent had asked for a pardon came as a surprise to commentators.

Start Quote

Putin demonstrates delicacy ahead of the Olympics”

End Quote Leonid Davydov Political analyst quoted in business daily Vedomosti

In a statement on his website, Khodorkovsky's lawyers said they could not comment on whether a request had been made.

The former head of the now defunct oil giant Yukos, who was once Russia's richest man, had repeatedly said he would not ask Mr Putin for a pardon because it would be tantamount to admitting guilt.

The Kommersant newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said on Friday Khodorkovsky had made the decision to seek a pardon following the threat of a third trial against him.

Amnesty

"I still don't know anything. I'm getting everything from the media. Right now I'm watching it on TV," Interfax quoted Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina, as saying.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky timeline

  • 1980s - Sets up computer software business
  • 1987 - Founds Menatep bank
  • 1995 - Buys Yukos for $350m, with Menatep assuming $2bn in debt
  • 2003 - Arrested for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud
  • 2005 - Jailed for eight years (running 2003-11)
  • 2007 - Yukos declared bankrupt
  • Dec 2010 - Convicted of embezzlement and money laundering, jailed for 13 years (2003-16)
  • Dec 2012 - Sentence cut by two years, release date 2014
  • Dec 2013 - Freed from jail after presidential pardon

She had earlier told BBC Russian she did not know about any clemency request by her son.

The BBC's Oleg Boldyrev says many people in Russia doubt that Khodorkovsky was released due to his mother's ill health.

He says it remains to be seen whether the president's former rival will pose a political threat after he is freed.

Many Russians who used to be against him as a tycoon now see him as an intellectual forces in the opposition, our correspondent adds.

The amnesty passed in the State Duma on Wednesday covers at least 20,000 prisoners, including minors, disabled people, veterans, pregnant women and mothers.

Mr Putin confirmed it would apply to the two members of punk band Pussy Riot still in prison and Greenpeace activists detained for their protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic.

 

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