December 21, 2013
Russia’s best-known prisoner has been freed, after spending more than ten years in jail.
After receiving a pardon from President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in Germany, where he’s expected to meet with his mother.
For now, he’s not saying much in public, beyond a statement thanking supporters, but his sudden release has raised a storm of speculation in Russia.
Within hours of the announcement that President Putin had granted the pardon, Khodorkovsky was on a private jet that whisked him to Berlin.
Khodorkovsky was once the head of the giant Yukos oil company, the richest man in Russia, and the most powerful rival to Vladimir Putin.
As Putin was consolidating his power, Khodorkovsky was giving money to opposition political groups, and talking about a different vision for Russia than Putin’s model of “managed democracy.”
“My position is rather simple: I think that we need a civil society so the country can develop normally,” he said in 2002, as he was mounting what had begun to look like a challenge to Putin’s re-election as president. “Many things grow from civil society: independent courts, responsible government, and a normal parliament.”
Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and charged with fraud. His business was broken up and sold, mostly to state-owned companies.
In 2010, when his sentence was nearing completion, he and his business partner were tried on new charges, and their sentences were extended until August of next year.