In a stunning turn of events, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on Thursday at the end of his annual press conference, citing the famous prisoner’s recent request seeking a pardon due in part to his mother’s ill health.
I would like to thank everyone who has been following the Yukos case all these years for the support you provided to me, my family and all those who were unjustly convicted and continue to be persecuted. I am very much looking forward to the minute when I will be able to hug my close ones and personally shake hands with all my friends and associates.
I am constantly thinking of those who continue to remain imprisoned.
My special thanks is to Mr. Hans-Dietrich Genscher for his personal participation in my fate.
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.
As reported by Forbes contributor Paul Roderick Gregory, the pardons were likely a move to placate world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel who are refusing to attend the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Once the richest person in Russia, worth $15 billion and ranked no. 15 in the world, the former head of Yukos Oil had been behind bars since 2003. That’s when he and his business partner Platon Lebedev were arrested and later convicted on fraud charges and tax evasion. They were convicted a second time in December 2010, just before they were due to be released, of embezzling more than 200 million tons of oil and laundering the proceeds, adding onto their time in jail.
Many believed that Putin and his supporters orchestrated the rulings to keep Khodorkovsky, a potential political foe, locked up. After all, the two verdicts appeared to contradict one another: how could he evade taxes on stolen money. “The absurdity of the charge and the verdict is so obvious that I am not going to delay your attention on it for long,” Khodorkovsky said at the time. He was due to be released next August, but only recently there were more reports in Moscow that investigators were preparing a third court case against him.