Khodorkovsky arrives in Germany after Putin pardon

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Media captionMikhail Khodorkovsky's parents and son flew to Germany on learning of his release

Russian ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has arrived in Germany, hours after being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin and freed from a decade in jail.

In a statement Mr Khodorkovsky, 50, confirmed he had asked Mr Putin for a pardon due to "family circumstances" - his mother is suffering from cancer.

He did not admit guilt and referred to those who were "unjustly convicted and continue to be persecuted" in his case.

Mr Putin earlier said he had signed the pardon on "the principles of humanity".

Mr Khodorkovsky, the former head of the now defunct oil giant Yukos, was once Russia's richest man and had used his wealth to fund opposition parties.

He was jailed for tax evasion and theft.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "happy" that Mr Khodorkovsky had been freed.

'Personal request'

Mr Khodorkovsky left the penal colony where he was being held, in the Karelia region of north-western Russia, early on Friday afternoon.

Russia's Federal Penal Service, quoted by news agency Interfax, said: "In the course of his release, Khodorkovsky asked for a passport for foreign travel. His request was met.

"Once he was released from prison, he left for Germany. We stress that the flight took place at his request and his exit documents were processed at his personal request."

The German foreign ministry later confirmed that Mr Khodorkovsky had landed at Schoenefeld airport in Berlin from St Petersburg, after the German embassy in Moscow had facilitated his departure from Russia.

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Media captionThe BBC's Oleg Boldyrev says some analysts believe Mr Khodorkovsky's release is a "sign of nervousness" in Moscow ahead of the Winter Olympics

The Associated Press (AP) quoted a spokesperson for the energy consulting firm, OBO Bettermann, as saying that former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had asked the company to provide a plane.

Mr Khodorkovsky is believed to have been taken to Berlin's Adlon Hotel.

In a statement attributed to Mr Khodorkovsky and posted on a Facebook account registered to his press secretary, Olga Pispanen, he said: "On November 12, I asked the president of Russia to pardon me due to my family situation, and I am glad his decision was positive.

"The issue of admission of guilt was not raised.

Image caption Penal Colony 7 at the village of Segezha, near the Finnish border, where Mr Khodorkovsky was held
Image caption Mr Putin said he had signed the pardon on "the principles of humanity"
Image caption Media gathered outside the Adlon hotel in Berlin

"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 constantly thinking of those who continue to remain imprisoned."

He also thanked Hans-Dietrich Genscher "for his personal involvement in my fate".

Germany's ARD television said Mr Genscher had met Mr Putin twice to discuss the case.

Mr Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina, 79, has been treated in Germany before.

However, Mr Khodorkovsky's father, Boris, told AP he and his wife were still in Moscow and were planning to fly to Germany on Saturday.

Marina Khodorkovskaya told Russian state television: "It has not sunk in yet."

Mr Khodorkovsky has been in prison since 2003 and was due to be released next August.

The presidential pardon came after Russian MPs on Wednesday backed a wide-ranging amnesty for at least 20,000 prisoners.

Mr Putin confirmed it would apply to the two members of punk band Pussy Riot still in prison and Greenpeace activists detained for their protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic.

Analysts say Mr Putin may be trying to ease international criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi.

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