MOSCOW, Russia Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the most talked about prisoners in Russia, Friday flew to Germany after he was freed following President Vladimir Putin’s decree pardoning the former oil tycoon who spent 10 years in jail on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement.
“We have just received official confirmation from the administration of the penal colony that Mikhail Borisovich (Khodorkovsky) has been released,” his lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said.
Klyuvgant said he did not have any more details on Khodorkovsky, nor did he know where his client was at the “present moment”.
But the Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement published on its website that Khodorkovsky had petitioned to be allowed to leave the country and go to Germany to meet his mother who is undergoing medical treatment there. The agency insisted that he left on his own will and was not expelled.
Khodorkovsky’s spokeswoman Olga Pispanen also confirmed his release citing the prison chief. But she did not have any further details.
The Kremlin said earlier Friday that the pardon for Khodorkovsky was granted on humanitarian grounds and would come into force straightaway.
The Russian business oligarch was arrested in 2003. His prosecution was widely considered to be Putin’s way to stop Khodorkovsky from plunging into Russian politics.
His imprisonment was due to end in August 2014.
Putin told reporters Thursday that Khodorkovsky had applied to him for clemency. But his lawyer said he knew nothing about.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told the Interfax news agency that the reported request for a pardon showed that Khodorkovsky, after years of casting the charges against him as political repression, has “admitted his guilt”.
The development comes close on the heels of an amnesty for two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace protest ship.
Most media commentaries talking about it said the pardoning was 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 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.
His 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 onetime fortune.