Putin says he will pardon Khodorkovsky

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Moscow — President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that he will pardon ex-oil tycoon and bitter Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a move that should see Russia’s most famous prisoner freed after more than a decade.

Putin revealed after his annual news conference that Russia’s once richest man had for the first time written a request for a pardon, citing humanitarian circumstances as his mother is ill.

The shock announcement comes after Russian investigators said earlier this month they were probing several more criminal cases against former Yukos oil company chief, who has been in prison since 2003.

Khodorkovsky’s legal team and even his mother said they had no information that the former oil tycoon had asked for a pardon but Putin’s spokesman told that the request had been personally signed by him.

Khodorkovsky has repeatedly indicated that he would not ask Putin for a pardon because that would be tantamount to admitting his guilt.

Rights activists have said that Khodorkovsky had been thrown into jail for daring to finance political opposition to the Russian strongman.

Putin has denied that the tycoon’s lengthy term was politically motivated but his statements have repeatedly betrayed that the issue was deeply personal.

Just before Khodorkovsky was sentenced to a second term in prison in 2010, Putin said in a stunningly terse statement broadcast on television that “a thief must be in prison.”

Putin’s announcement caused a stir in Moscow, with political figures and analysts saying it could not be overestimated.

Khodorkovsky was snatched off his corporate jet by special security forces in October 2003 shortly after Putin warned tycoons who disagreed with government policies about possible probes being launched into their wealth.

He and his business partner Platon Lebedev were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005.

A second trial ended in 2010 with an embezzlement conviction for both men. The decision outraged Western governments and saw the Kremlin accused of pursuing selective justice.

Khodorkovsky had been due to be released in August 2014. He has indicated he would not return to business or go into politics focusing instead on civil society projects.

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