Khodorkovsky arrives in Berlin following pardon from Putin

Former oil magnate freed from prison on humanitarian grounds after 10 years in Russian jails

Former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was in Germany last night having been freed from prison after Russia's president Vladimir Putin granted his appeal for pardon.

Mr Khodorkovsky, the billionaire former head of the Yukos oil corporation, was jailed in 2003 on charges of tax evasion and fraud that his supporters say were a punishment for his political activities.

Mr Putin pardoned Mr Khodorkovsky on humanitarian grounds, ending his 10-year incarceration in Russian jails.

Mr Khodorkovsky has lately been serving his sentence in a penal colony in northwest Russia. After being released he travelled to Germany where his mother is being treated for cancer.


He was met at Schönefeld airport in Berlin by former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who had lobbied for his release.

Family reasons
Mr Khodorkovsky said that he had appealed to Putin for pardon for "family reasons," but had not confessed his guilt. "I want to thank everyone who has followed the Yukos case all these years and for the support shown to me and my family and all those who were unjustly convicted and are still being punished," he said.

“I am really looking forward to the moment when I can embrace my loved ones and personally shake hands with all my friends and colleagues.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Mr Khodorkovsky's release, saying it represented a "window of opportunity" for further talks with Russia on issues relating to human rights – and on Ukraine

One of the first generation of fabulously wealthy Russian oligarchs, Mr Khodorkovsky made his fortune on the back of vast oil and financial assets acquired during mass privatisations in the 1990s after the Soviet Union’s demise.

When Mr Putin came to power in 2000, he began reining in the oligarchs and reasserting state control over Russian oil resources. Mr Khodorkovsky began supporting liberal opposition groups and soon found himself on the wrong side of the law.

After Mr Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, Yukos, the oil company he founded, was crippled by federal tax claims and sold off at bankruptcy auctions. Rosneft, Russia's state oil company, bagged Yukos' best assets at the sales.

However, the Yukos case has continued to haunt the Kremlin. Former shareholders in the company are suing the Russian government and Rosneft for billions of dollars for expropriating their assets.

Many political experts have linked the Khodorkovsky pardon to the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia will host in February at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Putin has a personal stake in the games intended to burnish Russia’s image as a modern state.

Others suspect that Mr Khodorkovsky’s pardon could have implications for Yukos’s legal battle with Russia that is being fought out in international courts.

At a meeting with Mr Putin , Igor Sechin, the powerful president of Rosneft, appeared to offer an olive branch to Mr Khodorkovsky saying he would consider him for a job if an appropriate post came up. The fact that Mr Khodorkovsky had appealed for clemency improved the “legal grounds to protect the company’s (Rosneft’s) interests in the Yukos case, he said.

Mr Khodorkovsky made no mention of his future plans.