December 22, 2013

Putin critic recalls tough prison regime

Former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pardoned after 10 years in jail, meets his family in Germany on Saturday.

By Frank Jordans
The Associated Press

BERLIN — The former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky was reunited with his family in Berlin on Saturday, a day after being released from a decade-long imprisonment in Russia.

click image to enlarge

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, left, looks from behind glass in a Moscow courtroom in 2010. Jailed for a decade on tax evasion and embezzlement charges, the former oil baron and Putin critic was released Friday and reunited with his family on Saturday.

The Associated Press

Khodorkovsky, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was meeting with his eldest son, Pavel, and his parents, Marina and Boris, who had flown separately to the German capital to meet him, said Christian Hanne, Khodorkovsky’s spokesman.

“Today is family day,” Hanne told The Associated Press.

Khodorkovsky also spoke to the editor of the Russian weekly New Times in what is believed to be his first interview since his release. In its video recording released by the magazine, Khodorkovsky, wearing a black pullover, looked tired but composed as he recalled tough prison conditions. He said the only break from a tough prison regime came when his wife and other family members were allowed to see him for a few days.

“During these years I had an opportunity – three days per quarter during four years out of 10 – to spend the nights in a visiting room, when I had visitors,” he said.

Pavel Khodorkovsky also spoke briefly to reporters waiting outside Berlin’s luxury Adlon Hotel.

“I’m thrilled to be here in Berlin today because my father is free,” he said. “My family is finally united and we are very, very happy to be together.”

“As you can imagine, my father is going through a lot right now and he cannot possibly be with all of you today,” the son said, adding that a news conference was planned for Sunday. “But he really appreciates all the support that he has received through these years.”

Khodorkovsky was released from prison Friday, hours after being pardoned by Putin, and immediately flown to Berlin on a private jet organized by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. The 86-year-old veteran diplomat had spent years working behind the scenes to lobby Putin for Khodorkovsky’s release.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Friday that he didn’t know why Khodorkovsky chose to fly to Germany.

“That was his own decision. No one has dictated him anything,” said Peskov, adding that Khodorkovsky was free to return to Russia whenever he wanted.

“He is the citizen of the Russian federation, no one can prevent a citizen of the Russian federation from returning to Russia,” Peskov said.

Peskov said that Khodorkovsky had submitted a formal appeal for pardon and a longer personal letter to Putin. He wouldn’t comment on what the longer letter contained.

One reason why Khodorkovsky chose to make his first destination Berlin could be that his mother has received medical treatment there in the past.

The news conference Sunday, at which the 50-year-old is expected to speak about his future plans, is scheduled to be held at Checkpoint Charlie – a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War that has now become a popular tourist destination.

Once Russia’s richest man, the billionaire boss of the country’s largest oil company, Yukos, was arrested in 2003 and charged with tax evasion. His current net worth is unknown.

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