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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-22

Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrived in Berlin Friday to be reunited with his family following his surprise pardon by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and subsequent release from prison.

In a statement, the Federal Penitentiary Service said the oligarch, who had spent more than a decade behind bars, had petitioned to be allowed to leave the country to meet his mother, who lives in Russia but has been undergoing medical treatment - reportedly for cancer - in Germany.

By Saturday, Khodorkovsky had been reunited with his eldest son, Pavel, a spokeswoman said on Russian radio Echo of Moscow.

"They are now together in Berlin," she said, adding that Khodorkovsky's parents, Marina and Boris, were also preparing to fly out to Germany to "finally see and hug him".

In a statement released on his official website, Khodorkovsky confirmed he had applied for a pardon on November 12, but said it was not an admission of guilt.

“I am very much waiting for the minute when I can embrace my nearest and personally shake the hands of all my friends and colleagues,” he said.

The former oil tycoon was quietly escorted out of his prison in northwestern Russia on Friday morning and brought to a St. Petersburg airport. From there, a private jet owned by German energy consulting group OBO Bettermann then flew him to Berlin – merely hours after his release.

'new case was prepared against him'

The flight had been arranged after a request by Germany’s former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who also met Khodorkovsky after he landed at Schoenefeld airport on Friday afternoon.

Gensher’s office confirmed that he had met Khodorkovsky while head of the German Council on Foreign Relations and that he had agreed with Khodorkovsky’s lawyers to try to help secure their client’s release.

In the statement, Khodorkovsky thanked Genscher for his “personal participation in my fate.”

Germany's foreign ministry said he had landed at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport on Friday afternoon.

From billionaire to dissident

During his time in prison on politically tinged charges of tax evasion and embezzlement, Khodorkovsky, 50, turned from a powerful oligarch into a respected dissident, becoming a political thinker who argued for social justice and placed the blame on Putin for Russia’s stagnating economy. It wasn’t clear whether Khodorkovsky would continue his opposition to the Kremlin.

Putin’s announcement less than 24 hours before that Khodorkovsky would be pardoned appeared to catch both the public and Khodorkovsky’s lawyers by surprise. His release was equally shrouded in mystery. Several hours before, Khodorkovsky’s lawyers and family said they still had no idea when he would be let out.

His spokeswoman Olga Pispanen later confirmed his release, but told the Associated Press she did not know if Khodorkovsky had really left for Germany. Pispanen said that as of Thursday, Khodorkovsky’s mother, who was reported to be undergoing treatment for cancer, was in Moscow.

When reached by phone at his home outside Moscow, Khodorkovsky’s father said that he and his wife had been waiting to see their son but had no idea when they would be able to.

Surprise pardon

Putin told reporters on Thursday that Khodorkovsky applied for the pardon because his mother’s health is deteriorating. The Kremlin’s website published a decree Friday morning saying that Putin was “guided by the principles of humanity” when he decided to pardon Khodorkovsky.

The pardon appeared to be a sudden turnaround for the Kremlin, which has vigorously prosecuted Khodorkovsky since his arrest in 2003, in what has widely been considered to be Putin’s retribution for the tycoon’s political ambitions.

The development – along with an amnesty for two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace protest ship – appears aimed at easing international criticism of Russia’s human rights record ahead of February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin’s pet project.

Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest man, worth billions of dollars, and the CEO of the country’s largest oil company when he was arrested on the tarmac of a Siberian airport and charged with tax evasion.

During Putin’s first term as president, the oil tycoon angered the Kremlin by funding opposition parties and also was believed to harbour personal political ambitions. His actions defied an unwritten pact between Putin and a narrow circle of billionaire tycoons, under which the government refrained from reviewing privatisation deals that made the group enormously rich.

Khodorkovsky’s oil company Yukos was effectively crushed under the weight of a $28 billion back-tax bill. Yukos was sold off. Most of it went to state oil company Rosneft, allowing the Kremlin to reassert control of the country’s oil business as well as stifle an inconvenient voice.

Khodorkovsky’s current net worth is unknown, but likely it’s at most a mere shadow of his one-time fortune.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

Date created : 2013-12-20


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