Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been reunited with his son in Berlin, after being freed from jail following a surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin, a spokeswoman for the Kremlin critic said.
“The eldest son of Mikhail Borisovich, Pavel, has already seen his dad,” a spokeswoman for Khodorkovsky, Olga Pispanen, said on Echo of Moscow radio on Saturday. “They are now together in Berlin.”
Russia’s most famous prisoner, Khodorkovsky, began life as a free man in Germany.
After spending more than 10 years behind bars, Russia’s former richest man was quitely escorted from his prison in northwestern Russia on Friday and boarded a plane to Berlin in an operation worked out behind the scenes with the German government.
The lightning speed of his release led some observers to suggest that Khodorkovsky might have flown into forced exile but Putin’s spokesman dismissed such suggestions.
“He is free to return to Russia. Absolutely,” Peskov told AFP news agency on Saturday.
He declined however to say whether any conditions were attached to his release or whether he would be free to participate in politics.
Khodorkovsky, 50, wrote two letters to Putin: one a short legal letter, and the other a longer, personal missive, Peskov added. He declined further details.
Putin had stunned Russia on Thursday by saying his fierce critic had asked for clemency on humanitarian grounds as his mother was ill. “Guided by humanitarian principles,” the Russian strongman signed a pardon decree on Friday.
In his first remarks since his release, Khodorkovsky said in a statement on Friday he did ask Putin for a pardon but his request did not amount to an admission of guilt and thanked Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany’s foreign minister from 1974-1992, for helping negotiate his release.
The Russian opposition magazine The New Times, for which Khodorkovsky wrote a column about his prison life, said the former tycoon called the editorial office to express gratitude for support.
“The most important today is Freedom, Freedom, Freedom,” the magazine quoted him as saying. “A lot lies ahead, the release of those hostages who still remained in prison, first and foremost Platon Lebedev,” he said, referring to his jailed business partner.
Behind the scenes
Less than three hours after the Kremlin released the pardon decree, Khodorkovsky’s lawyers said he had left his prison colony in the town of Segezha in the Karelia region.
Genscher, 86, arranged the flight on a private jet and picked Khodorkovsky up at the airport in Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the “behind the scenes” work of Genscher, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
“He worked successfully on possibilities for a solution with a great level of commitment and the support of the chancellor and the foreign ministry,” Seibert said.
From the airport, Khodorkovsky was reportedly taken to Berlin’s luxury Adlon Hotel near the Brandenburg Gate from which Genscher was seen leaving in the early evening.
The release drew the curtain on the highest profile criminal case in post-Soviet Russia which has harmed the country’s investment climate and become a symbol for the selective persecution of Kremlin enemies under Putin.
Khodorkovsky had been due to be released in August 2014.