UK & World News

  • 20 December 2013, 18:31

Russia's Khodorkovsky 'Glad' To Be Free

A Russian oil tycoon has denied that he had admitted guilt in his request for a presidential pardon after being released from a prison camp.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once the richest man in the country, was freed within an hour of the Kremlin publishing a decree and boarded a flight to Berlin, where his ill mother is being treated.

In the first statement since his release, Mr Khodorkovsky said: "On November 12, I turned to the president of Russia with a request for a pardon associated with family circumstances, and am glad about the positive decision. The issue of my guilt was not addressed."

Mr Khodorkovsky has been in prison since 2003 after being convicted in two trials on charges including fraud and embezzlement.

He previously said he would not request a presidential pardon because he would be seen to be admitting guilt.

However, the newspaper Kommersant reported that he changed his mind after a meeting with Russian security services, who raised the possibility of a third trial and warned him that his mother's health was deteriorating.

"This conversation, which was conducted without lawyers, forced Mr Khodorkovsky to turn to the president," the article said.

He also thanked former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was the top diplomat of West Germany and then Germany from 1974-1992, for aiding his release.

Berlin worked "behind the scenes" for Mr Khodorkovsky release, said German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Putin surprised journalists at the end of his annual end-of-year news conference on Thursday by announcing that he was planning to pardon Mr Khodorkovsky.

"Guided by humanitarian principles, I decree that Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky ... should be pardoned and freed from any further punishment in the form of imprisonment," his decree said.

The circumstances surrounding the pardon remained unclear.

A Russian government source said freeing his best-known and potentially most powerful critic could deflect international complaints about Vladimir Putin's human rights record as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics at Sochi in seven weeks.

He fell out with Mr Putin as the president clipped the wings of wealthy oligarchs who had become powerful during the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin's rule following the collapse of Soviet communism.

Mr Khodorkovsky has given no indication of his future plans, saying only he wanted to meet his loved ones.

"I am very much looking forward to the minute when I will be able to embrace my loved ones and personally shake hands with all my friends and associates," he said.

"First of all I am going to repay my debt to my parents, my wife and my children, and I am very much looking forward to meeting them.

"I will welcome the opportunity to celebrate this upcoming holiday season with my family."

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