Khordorkovsky vows to help political prisoners

Former Russian oil tycoon won’t go into politics or seek return of assets

Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pardoned by Russian president Vladimir Putin after 10 years in jail, has vowed to do all he can to secure the release of political prisoners in Russia.

Mr Khodorkovsky spoke at a packed and tumultuous news conference in Berlin two days after he was released from a prison near the Arctic Circle yesterdayand immediately flew to Germany.

The 50-year-old said he should not be viewed as a symbol that there are no political prisoners in Russia and said he would do “all I can do” to secure the release of others. He thanked media pressure for helping secure his release.

He said that he will not shy away from public activity but would not get directly involved in Russian politics.


“The struggle for power is not for me,” Mr Khodorkovsky told a news conference in Berlin.

Mr Khodorkovsky also said he hopes Putin will not stay in power for life and urged Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to follow Mr Putin’s example and free opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. The former Yukos oil company chief said he is in a good financial situation and does not intend to go back into business.

Separately he said in an interview that there were no conditions attached to his release and that he had made no admission of guilt in asking Mr Putin for a pardon.

“I do not intend to get involved in politics and do not intend to fight for the return of assets,” he told the Russian magazine The New Times.

Once Russia’s richest man, Mr Khodorkovsky had been in jail since his arrest in 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges.

He had been convicted in two trials that Kremlin critics say were politically motivated punishment for challenging Mr Putin.

Yukos was broken up and sold off after his arrest. Its main production asset ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft, which is now Russia's biggest producer and is headed by a close Putin ally, Igor Sechin.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who requested the pardon for family reasons as his mother is ill, said he would return only if he is certain he could leave again at any time for family reasons.

He spent his first full day as a free man in the German capital reconnecting with his eldest son and his parents, whom he had not seen during his decade in prison.

“Our authorities can say honestly that they did not exile me,” he said. “But knowing our reality, we can absolutely clearly understand that they suggested I leave the country.”

His eldest son, Pavel, and representatives of the Khodorkovsky Centre said Mr Khodorkovsky would hold a news conference today at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, at the old crossing point between the formerly divided city's east and west sides.

“As you can imagine, my father is going through a lot right now, and he cannot possibly be with all of you today,” his son told reporters. “But he really appreciates all the support that he has received through these years.”