Khodorkovsky says he will not challenge Putin

Released political prisoner rules out political career or return to business

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's most famous political prisoner, has said he harbours no ambition to challenge Vladimir Putin and go into politics, adding that he will not return to Russia while he faces the prospect of rearrest there.

Thirty-six hours after he was freed from a Russian prison and flown to Berlin, Mr Khodorkovsky said he had not had time to decide where he will live. He immediately ruled out a political career, or a return to business, but said he would be a “public figure”.

Asked whether he felt personal gratitude to Mr Putin, who signed a decree on Friday pardoning him, he said: “It’s very hard for me to say I’m grateful to him. I’ve thought for a long time about what words I should use. I’m glad of his decision.”

Mr Khodorkovsky met western journalists yesterday at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin – a symbolic venue.

Assets seized
Asked how he had changed in prison camp, his home for the past 10 years, he replied: "The biggest change is that I'm 10 years older." Once Russia's richest man, Mr Khodorkovsky said he did not know how much money he had left – most of his assets were seized – adding: "I won't be buying a football club."


Mr Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 after financing opposition political parties. His imprisonment was widely regarded as a political punishment by the Kremlin, and by Mr Putin personally. The tycoon was convicted twice on fraud and tax evasion charges.

His oil company, Yukos, was broken up, sold off and given to state oil company Rosneft, headed by Mr Putin's ally Igor Sechin. On Sunday, he described the cases against him as "phantasmagoric".

Mr Khodorkovsky said his refusal to enter politics would not stop him from campaigning for the release of his friend and Yukos colleague Platon Lebedev. Mr Lebedev, his co-defendant in two trials, remains in jail. The former oligarch said he would not go back to Russia while a civil claim arising from his first trial still hung over him. If he were to go back he could be rearrested at any moment, he said.

The idea of a pardon was first floated back in 2008 by President Dmitry Medvedev, but he refused to apply because this would have meant admitting his guilt – potentially implicating his Yukos colleagues, who might then face extradition to Russia, he said.

Then on November 12th his lawyers brought a proposal from former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Mr Genscher, who had held secret talks with Mr Putin, said he should write to Russia’s president asking for pardon. “I looked at it. There was no demand I recognise my guilt,” Mr Khodorkovsky recalled.

The prison governor woke him at 2am on Friday with the pardon and asked if he wanted to leave for Germany.“They didn’t offer me an alternative.” He knew his mother was being treated in a Berlin clinic

He was flown to St Petersburg by helicopter before being whisked into exile by private jet. His exit from Russia was “in the best tradition of the 1970s”, he said, a reference to the practice of bundling Soviet dissidents such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn out of the country.

Family reunited
On Saturday, Mr Khodorkovsky was reunited with his family – his parents Marina and Boris, who flew in from Moscow, and his son Pavel from New York. His wife Inna is wrapping up paperwork in Moscow and will join him soon.

Asked if he had missed them, Mr Khodorkovsky paused, struggled for words, then said: “I was only allowed family visits for four years out of the 10, and then only for a few minutes once a month.”

He said the forthcoming Sochi Olympics may have been a factor in his sudden release. More broadly, he added: "I think it [his release] is a symbol that the Russian government and Putin personally are seriously worried about the country's image." But his freedom didn't, in his view, signify Russia was heading for "deep" or meaningful reforms. – (Guardian service)