Formerly Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was reunited with his family in Berlin on Saturday after being pardoned a day earlier by President Vladimir Putin in what was widely read as a Kremlin effort to mute criticism of its dire rights record ahead of February’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Khodorkovsky – an oil baron whose Yukos empire was subsumed by the state while he was in jail on criminal charges his supporters view as politically motivated – will give his first news conference at 2300 AEDT on Sunday at the Cold War symbol Checkpoint Charlie, a well-known crossing point from East to West Berlin.
He told Moscow’s The New Times in an interview segment posted on the opposition magazine’s website on Saturday that he had been able to see his wife Inna only a handful of times in the past 10 years.
“Once in every three months – for four years out of the 10 – I was allowed to spend the night in the meeting room,” said Khodorkovsky as he leaned back in an armchair of Berlin’s luxurious Adlon Hotel still sporting an inmate’s buzz cut and looking underweight.
The New Times website became inaccessible moments after a video clip of the interview was posted due to what appeared to be a well-orchestrated hacker attack – one of many against opposition news sources in Russia.
Khodorkovsky, 50, was a Western investment community darling who waged open battles against Putin’s political agenda and the Russian state’s economic approach until his arrest on tax evasion charges
in October 2003.
His subsequent conviction in 2005 and second sentence issued on separate embezzlement charges in 2010 became a symbol for many of both the Kremlin’s brutal use of selective justice and the court system’s subservience to the state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the move while also urging Moscow to do more to improve the rule of law.
Two members of the Pussy Riot punk band who were jailed for staging an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral in 2012 are expected to be freed under a broader amnesty that comes less than
two months before the Olympic Games open in Russia on February 7.
Thirty Greenpeace activists – arrested on hooliganism charges after a raid on a Russian Arctic oil rig – are also expected to escape prosecution.