Former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky a free man

BERLIN — After spending 10 years in Russian jails for what many in the West believe were trumped-up offenses, Mikhail Khodorkovsky left prison a free man Friday and flew to Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned his longtime rival Friday morning and the country's Federal Penitentiary Service said Khodorkovsky left the IK-7 prison in the remote northwestern village of Segezha.

Khodorkovsky, 50, had petitioned to be allowed to travel to Germany to meet his mother, who is undergoing medical treatment, the Penitentiary Service said.

During his time in prison on politically tinged charges of tax evasion and embezzlement, Khodorkovsky has shifted his image from a powerfully wealthy, often arrogant oligarch into a respected dissident. The former oil tycoon became a political thinker and editorial writer who argued for social justice and placed the blame for Russia's stagnating economy squarely on its longtime leader Putin.

It wasn't clear whether Khodorkovsky would continue his opposition to the Kremlin or even choose to return to Russia.

His arrest in 2003 was widely seen as Putin's retribution for the tycoon's political ambitions. Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man, worth billions of dollars, and the CEO of the country's largest oil company. He angered Putin by funding opposition parties and was believed to harbor personal political ambitions.

It was not entirely clear why Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky. The Kremlin's website published a decree Friday saying that Putin was "guided by the principles of humanity."

In a statement released on the website of his lawyers and supporters, Khodorkovsky said his application for a pardon, which he made Nov. 12, was not an admission of guilt.

"I am very much waiting for the minute when I can embrace my nearest and personally shake the hands of all my friends and colleagues," he said in the statement.

Former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky a free man 12/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 11:56pm]

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