20 December 2013, News Wires – Jailed former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was reported to have walked free from prison on Friday after his request for a pardon was granted by President Vladimir Putin.
The 50-year-old former boss of the now defunct oil company Yukos, who was once Russia’s richest man, left a penal colony in the sub-Arctic Karelia region of north-west Russia after Putin signed a presidential decree to end 10 years of imprisonment, Reuters reported.
The decree, issued as part of a wide-ranging amnesty for prisoners also including Greenpeace activists the Arctic 30 and members of punk band Pussy Riot, marks a surprising turnaround by Putin for whom Khodorkovsky was once regarded as a serious political rival.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant was quoted as saying by the BBC that prison officials had confirmed he had left the Segezha prison camp, with Russian media reporting he had eaten lunch at the penal colony as usual while waiting for his release papers to be drawn up.
A German police official told Reuters the ex-tycoon was now en route to Berlin by plane and was due to land in the German capital on Friday afternoon local time.
A document published by the Kremlin on Friday said the decree would come into force from the day of its signing.
Khodorkovsky, who was due to be released next August, had this week requested a pardon from Putin on the grounds that his mother was ill, although some commentators have suggested it may have been motivated by the threat of a third trial against him.
Khodorkovsky’s mother, Marina, who is undergoing medical treatment in Germany, was quoted as saying by Interfax: “I still don’t know anything. I’m getting everything from the media. Right now I’m watching it on TV.”
Khodorkovsky was imprisoned in 2003 for eight years on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud, and had his sentence extended to 2016 when he was convicted of money laundering in 2010, though it was subsequently cut by two years.
There was no word though on whether ex-business colleague Platon Lebedev, who was jailed along with Khodorkovsky, would also be pardoned.
At the time of the initial conviction, it was suggested the charges against the ex-tycoon had been trumped up by Putin in order to remove a troublesome political opponent, given Khodorkosky was a fierce critic of the president and seen as a potential challenger for leadership of the country.
Khodorkosky, who earlier briefly served as deputy oil minister in 1993, formerly presided over the lucrative business empire of Yukos, including oilfields and extensive infrastructure, that was declared bankrupt in 2007 before being broken up and sold off, mainly to the Russian state.
Its prize production assets ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft, now led by Putin ally Igor Sechin.
Rosneft said on Friday it did not see any threat of legal action against the company from Khodorkovsky after his release. “We don’t see any risks for the company,” Sechin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
In the presidential decree granting Khodorkosky’s release, Putin said he was “guided by the principles of humanity”.
Analysts have suggested Putin may be trying to ease international criticism of Russia’s human rights record ahead of February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
While Khodorkovsky’s star is believed to have fallen after 10 years in jail, he is still believed to command support among the Russian population and it remains to be seen whether he will still pose a threat to Putin.