Europe

Russia's Mikhail Khodorkovsky granted Switzerland visa

Former Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Image caption Khodorkovsky spent a decade in a Russian jail

Switzerland has granted a three-month visa to the former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was recently freed after 10 years in a Russian jail.

"The visa allows a three-month stay in the Schengen area," the Swiss embassy in Berlin said, referring to the 26-nation free-travel zone in Europe.

Khodorkovsky has been staying in a German hotel following his release earlier this month.

His family lives in Switzerland and he has business there.

At the time of his arrest more than 10 years ago, Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man, and he used some of his wealth to fund opposition parties.

He was found guilty of fraud and tax evasion, and has always insisted that his conviction was politically motivated.

Since being freed on 20 December, and immediately flying to Germany, he has vowed to stay out of Russia.

But his spokesman admitted last week that he was considering a possible move to Switzerland, because that is where his wife Inna lives and his twin sons go to school.

A spokesman for Khodorkovsky said: "He is very grateful to the Swiss authorities for the speed and efficiency with which they have dealt with his visa application."

Pardons

Khodorkovsky had been due to be released next August, but requested a pardon because his mother is suffering from cancer.

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

Two members of punk protest band Pussy Riot - jailed for staging a protest in a Moscow cathedral - have also recently been freed.

And last week Russian authorities dropped criminal charges against some of the 30 people accused of taking part in a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic.

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

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