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Khodorkovsky says will not go into politics or seek oil assets

Source: Reuters - Sun, 22 Dec 2013 11:15 AM
Author: Reuters
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Freed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky smiles as he visits an exhibition in the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, December 22, 2013. REUTERS/Steffi Loos
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* Khodorkovsky says pardon is not admission of guilt

* Former Russian tycoon sought release for family reasons

* Now in Berlin, says he heard of pardon on TV news

By Michelle Martin

BERLIN, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin after 10 years in jail, said in remarks published on Sunday that he would not go into politics or seek to regain assets of his former oil company, Yukos.

Khodorkovsky, who flew to Berlin after his release from a prison near the Arctic Circle on Saturday, said that there were no conditions attached to his release and that he had made no admission of guilt in asking Putin for a pardon.

"I do not intend to get involved in politics and do not intend to fight for the return of assets," Khodorkovsky told the Russian magazine The New Times in a filmed interview, excerpts of which were shown online. He said he told Putin that in a letter sent with his pardon request.

Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky had been in jail since his arrest in 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges.

He was convicted in two trials that Kremlin critics say were politically motivated punishment for challenging Putin. He had funded opposition parties, questioned state decisions on oil pipeline policy, raised corruption allegations and fashioned himself as an enlightened, Western-style post-Soviet executive.

Yukos was broken up and sold off after his arrest. Its main production asset ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft, which is now Russia's biggest producer and is headed by a close Putin ally, Igor Sechin.

Khodorkovsky, whose mother is ill and who said he requested the pardon for family reasons, said he would return to Russia only if he was certain he could leave again at any time.

"In my current family situation that is the main condition," said Khodorkovsky, who looked confident and composed. He said late last month that his mother Marina, 79, was fighting cancer.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has indicated there was no secret deal and said Khodorkovsky is free to return to Russia.

But he has also suggested the request for a pardon meant Khodorkovsky had admitted guilt. Khodorkovsky had refrained from asking for a pardon because of the Kremlin's longstanding position on that, and he said he had not done so now.

"For me, admitting guilt is unacceptable," he said in a separate interview with Russian internet and TV channel Dozhd.

Khodorkovsky fell out with the Kremlin before his arrest as Putin, then in his first term, reined in influential "oligarchs" who made fortunes snapping up assets in the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin's rule following the collapse of Soviet communism.

Putin had singled him out for bitter personal attacks since his arrest, telling the country that "a thief should be in jail" and graphically suggesting Khodorkovsky had blood on his hands in reference to the murder conviction of a Yukos security chief.

"PACK UP, PLEASE"

But supporters say Khodorkovsky, 50, was jailed to curb political challenges to Putin, bring his oil assets under state control and warn other tycoons to toe the line.

His jailing helped define Putin's rule, representing what critics say is the misuse of the judicial system, curbing the rule of law and intolerance of dissent under the 60-year-old leader, who has not ruled out seeking a new term in 2018.

Many observers said Putin's unexpected pardon was part of a drive by Putin to improve his image before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February - an event Putin worked hard to secure and may see as part of his legacy.

He has come under fire over a law activists and Western governments say discriminates against gays.

Khodorkovsky had been due to be released next August but some supporters feared his sentence could be extended, as it was once before, as murky warnings of potential new charges against him gained frequency.

Khodorkovsky said in a statement on Friday that he had asked for the pardon on Nov. 12. He told Dozhd he had learned of Putin's pardon announcement, which came as a surprise to virtually everybody in Russia, from the TV news.

"When I heard about Putin's declaration ... I immediately went and got my papers together, because the main thing I wanted to take with me from the camp was my papers," he told independent Russian channel Dozhd.

"At 2 a.m. or half-past, the head of our camp wakes me and says: 'Mikhail Borisovich, pack up please'," he said.

Khodorkovsky was driven out of the remote prison camp and taken by helicopter to St. Petersburg, where he boarded a private jet and departed for Berlin, according to Alexander Rahr, a German political scientist who has long known Putin and advised former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher on his efforts to help secure Khodorkovsky's release.

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