Putin critic Khodorkovsky freed from prison, reportedly in Germany

<i>This post has been updated. See the notes below for details.</i>

MOSCOW -- Following a pardon from President Vladimir Putin, former Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released from prison Friday, officials told his lawyers.

[Updated, 7:05 a.m. PST Dec. 20: Later, the Associated Press reported that he had arrived in Germany.]

Earlier in the day, Putin signed the decree that released his biggest political rival after 3,709 days of imprisonment.


“Guided by principles of humanism, I decree to pardon convicted Khodorkovsky, Mikhail Borisovich, born in 1963 in Moscow setting him free of further confinement,” the Russian leader said in the decree published on the Kremlin’s official website.

“The administration of Segezha [labor] colony [in the northern Karelai region] officially confirmed to [his] lawyers that he is free and has left the colony,” Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, told TV-Rain, a private liberal television network. “This is all and no further detail.”

Klyuvgant refrained from providing any information about his client’s whereabouts.

[Updated, 5:43 a.m. PST Dec. 20: After Khodorkovsky was freed, “he requested to arrange for him to have documents for travel abroad,” a Russian prison system official told the RIA-Novosti news agency. “After his liberation he has flown off to Germany, where his mother is on treatment.”

On Thursday, Putin told reporters that Khodorkovsky had sent him a letter applying for clemency on humanitarian grounds, citing his mother’s illness.

However, Khodorkovsky’s mother, Marina, was in Moscow on Friday and was not aware of his plans to fly to Germany, she told The Times.]

Three hours after the release, she said she still hadn’t heard from him.

“I am really worried,” she said in a phone interview with The Times. “I heard that he was released today but he has never got in touch with me. I suspect he is still driven somewhere in a prison car and unable to call me or else he would have done it long ago.”

Vladimir Varfolomeyev, deputy editor in chief of the influential Echo of Moscow radio station, wrote in his Facebook account that he had information indicating that Khodorkovsky was flown by helicopter from the prison camp to St. Petersburg.


[Updated, 7:05 a.m. PST Dec. 20: Later Friday, a spokesman for a German company told the Associated Press that Khodorkovsky had landed in Berlin on its private jet. Ludger Baumann, a spokesman for OBO Bettermann, an energy consulting company that also has a charter flight operation, said the company was asked by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to provide a plane that flew Khodorkovsky to Schoenefeld Airport.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Khodorkovsky’s arrival. Genscher’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.]

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, was arrested in 2003 and subsequently convicted in two trials for tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. His sentence had been due to end in August.

While he was in prison, his multibillion-dollar Yukos oil company was hit with a $28 billion back-tax bill, split up and nationalized by the state, claiming material damages.

Putin’s critics and human rights activists insist that Khdorkovsky was prosecuted for political reasons because he openly challenged Putin in the early 2000s, sponsoring the opposition movement.