Khodorkovsky vows to help Russian political prisoners

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: "I do not want to be seen as a symbol that there are no political prisoners left in Russia"

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Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said he will do all he can to free other political prisoners.

At a Berlin news conference, he said he would stay out of politics and that "the struggle for power is not for me".

He said he only found out he was going to Berlin the day he was freed, adding that he would only go back to Russia if he was sure he could leave again.

Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released on Friday, after 10 years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a complex dissident. He made his money during the unscrupulous 1990s, building a huge banking and oil empire. For that reason he is not widely loved in Russia. Many people see him as part of a gang who stole Russia's assets as the Soviet Union fell apart.

But in the early 2000s he tried to lead the way in modernising Russian business, and encouraging further democracy in the country. It was when he started funding opposition groups - and when he called out President Putin for the increasing atmosphere of corruption surrounding the Kremlin - that he fell out of favour.

Other oligarchs stayed away from politics or left the country but Mikhail Khodorkovsky did not, and ended up in prison. Human rights groups say his 10 years in prison, and his sudden release, show how poor the rule of law is in Russia. Imprisonment is still a tool in Kremlin politics, though arguably President Putin has started to use it less.

He always insisted that his conviction was politically motivated.

At the time of his arrest he was Russia's richest man and he used some of his wealth to fund opposition parties.

No return to business

Pavel Khodorkovsky tells the BBC about his hopes for a "happy life together in Russia" with his father

Khodorkovsky held his news conference at the Berlin Wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie, the former crossing point between East and West Berlin and a symbolic Cold War location.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Berlin said it is clear that the former prisoner is happy to become a symbol of those who are still imprisoned.

He said there was a need "to make sure that in Russia and in any other countries in the world there won't be political prisoners".

"I will do everything I can so that there are none left," he added.

Khodorkovsky said he was not advocating a boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, but warned against letting the event become "a great party for President Putin".

He insisted he would not get involved in Russian politics himself, saying: "The struggle for power is not for me".

"I didn't have to be out-of-proportion emotional about this because I realised that my family wasn't suffering"

He also said he would not return to business as "my financial situation doesn't require me to work just to earn some more money".

He spoke about the suddenness of his release and the unexpectedness of his destination.

"It was 2am when the commandant of our camp woke me up and he told me I was going home. After that, on the trip, I found out that this trip was supposed to end in Berlin," he said.

Merkel thanked

He added that he would not return to his homeland until he was certain he could leave again at any time and that further charges would not be brought against him.

Asked about his feelings for Mr Putin, he said that because his family had not suffered during his incarceration he was able to avoid getting over-emotional and be pragmatic.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky timeline

  • 1995 - Buys Yukos for $350m
  • 2003 - Arrested for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud
  • 2005 - Jailed for eight years (running 2003-11)
  • 2007 - Yukos declared bankrupt
  • Dec 2010 - Convicted of embezzlement and money laundering, jailed for 13 years (2003-16)
  • Dec 2012 - Sentence cut by two years, release date 2014
  • Nov 2013 - Told that Mr Putin would pardon him without admission of guilt
  • 20 Dec 2013 - Woken up at 2am and freed from jail after presidential pardon

The former tycoon also thanked supporters, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for helping to secure his release.

As well as Mrs Merkel, he mentioned former German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher.

"He made it possible for us to have reached this point now," he said of Mr Genscher.

Earlier, the former billionaire told a Russian magazine he did not intend to fight for the return of assets from his disbanded oil company, Yukos.

Khodorkovsky had been in prison since 2003 and was due to be released next August, but requested a pardon because his mother is suffering from cancer.

President Vladimir Putin surprised Russians last week by agreeing to the pardon.

In a statement after his release on Friday, Khodorkovsky stressed he had not admitted guilt.

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