Mikhail Khodorkovsky pardoned: Russian President Vladimir Putin to free former political nemesis after 10 years in prison

The former oil tycoon is to be pardoned after as part of an ‘amnesty project’ by the Kremlin ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics next year

Moscow

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the man who went from being Russia’s richest man to its most famous political prisoner, is to be pardoned by his longtime nemesis President Vladimir Putin after spending more than a decade behind bars.

In a surprise announcement apparently aimed at repairing his battered image abroad ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics next year, Mr Putin said his former rival would be pardoned “in the near future”.

Mr Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, had funded opposition parties and clashed publicly with Putin before his arrest.

The pardon announcement comes the day after Mr Putin’s amnesty project was approved by the parliament, paving the way for the two imprisoned members of the feminist group Pussy Riot and the 30 Greenpeace crew members on trial for a September protest to be freed.

Mr Putin said Mr Khodorkovsky had only recently filed a written request seeking a pardon. The President suggested that the poor health of Mr Khodorkovsky’s mother had motivated his decision.

“He’s already spent more than 10 years in prison, this is a serious punishment,” Mr Putin said. “He’s appealed on humanitarian grounds. His mother is ill and I think that considering these circumstances, a corresponding decision can be made.” Mr Putin did not mention his plans for a pardon during the press conference itself, even though he was asked about the possibility of a third case being brought against Yukos management. The President had responded, as he often does when asked about politicised trials, that the decision rests with Russia’s investigative organs, although he admitted that he didn’t “see any particular threats for anyone there”.

Mr Khodorkovsky had been due to be released next August. He and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were convicted on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2005, then on embezzlement and money laundering charges in 2010. Yukos was broken up and the state-owned Rosneft oil company headed by Kremlin insider Igor Sechin acquired many of its assets.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled this summer that the tax fraud charges were legitimate, but that the sentencing of the two men to a remote prison colony near the Arctic Circle was unjustified.

The sudden pardon announcement surprised not only journalists, but also Mr Khodorkovsky’s legal team. Russian media quoted Mr Khodorkovsky’s lawyer saying that his client had not applied for a pardon, although pardon pleas have previously been made by others on his behalf. However, in a later statement, the legal team called all previous commentary about the pardon request “invalid” until they could meet Mr Khodorkovsky.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held near the Arctic Circle Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held near the Arctic Circle (AP)
Mr Khodorkovsky’s 79-year-old mother, Marina, told Reuters she had only just heard reports. “I want to believe he will pardon him,” she said. “I want to believe Putin is not totally lost.”

Political analyst Alexei Makarkin said Mr Khodorkovsky had most likely made a deal with the Kremlin to file a pardon plea, thereby essentially admitting his guilt.

“This was the option the regime proposed,” Mr Makarkin told The Independent. “They wouldn’t have freed him if he didn’t sign this document.”

Mr Khodorkovsky previously refused to file a pardon plea on moral grounds. Notably, then-president Dmitry Medvedev declined to pardon Mr Khodorkovsky in 2012 despite arguments by the presidential human rights council that the verdict should be overturned, saying he had no reason to pardon someone who had not asked for clemency.

The former oil tycoon’s pardon is likely to embolden investors. Earlier this month, financial institutions predicted a stock market rally if he was freed.

It will also take some heat off Mr Putin for the Sochi Olympics, a legacy project for him that has been criticised over allegations of corruption and environmental violations, as well as worries that LGBT athletes and fans will fall prey to Russia’s law against gay propaganda among minors.

Mr Khodorkovsky has previously written from prison that he does not plan to go back into business once released.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices