— Russia's former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, recently pardoned by Russia's president, gave his first news conference Sunday after spending more than 10 years in prison on charges of embezzlement and tax fraud. Khodorkovsky appeared composed and thoughtful while he answered questions at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khordorvosky, started his press conference by thanking everyone who helped facilitate his release; apologizing in advance if he failed to mention anyone.
The former head of Yukos Oil spent 10 years behind bars after being convicted of tax evasion and embezzlement. He was charged shortly after having a televised, heated argument with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky had also funded the opposition, questioned state decisions on oil pipeline policy and raised corruption allegations; saying civil society was important for democracy.
As a result of Khodorkovsky’s two convictions, his company was broken up and sold off to become part of Russia’s biggest state oil giant.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, center, arrives for his first news conference after his release from a Russian prison, Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Freed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (C) arrives for his news conference in the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks during his first news conference after his release from a Russian prison, Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Marina and Boris Khodorkovsky, parents of freed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky listen during his news conference in the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, center, leaves a news conference in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Freed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexandra Hildebrandt, director of Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, pose for a picture in the museum in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
The parents of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his father Boris, right, and his mother Marina, center left, arrive at their son's news conference in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 22, 2013.
Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, speaks to the media outside of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 21, 2013.
Russian emergency ministry personnel stand near a helicopter at a field next to the Penal Colony 7, where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was incarcerated near the Finnish border, 300 km south of the Arctic Circle, Dec. 20, 2013.
Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is seen on a screen during an appeal for a reduced sentence at Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow August 6, 2013.
Khodorkovsky said he hopes his pardon on Friday by Putin would not lead people to think that there are no political prisoners left in Russia; because there are and he says they need to be helped.
"There are other political prisoners who are still left in Russia, not only those related to the Yukos criminal case," he said. "I would like to say that you should not see me as a symbol that there are no more political prisoners in Russia. I'm asking you to see me as a symbol of the efforts of the civil society that could lead even to the release of those people whom nobody ever expected to see released."
Khodorkovsky was released from a penal colony near the Arctic Circle early Friday and says he has not had much time to think about his future.
But he said he does not plan to go into politics and his pardon had nothing to do with admitting guilt.
"I am not going to engage in any political activity, and I said that in my letter to President Putin and reiterated it several times since," he said. "I am going to engage in public work. The struggle for power is not for me now."
The 50-year-old said he had asked Putin for a pardon for family reasons, citing his mother’s poor health. He said he will only return to Russia if he will be able to leave again when he wants.
"Mr. Peskov, the spokesman of the Russian president, said that nobody would prevent me from coming back to Russia at any moment. Unfortunately, at this time I do not have any guarantees that I will be able to fly again afterwards, wherever I need for any matters, and my family matters I currently see as a priority for me," he said.
The former tycoon has been given a year-long visa for Germany.