Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, will be freed from prison in 2014 after a Moscow court reduced his second sentence for fraud and tax evasion by two years.
President Vladimir Putin today wished Khodorkovsky “good health” after his release and said he hadn’t influenced the courts on the former billionaire Yukos Oil Co. owner’s case. Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, had their terms cut to 11 years from 13 years by the Moscow City Court.
While Putin has called for improved laws to safeguard property rights and stem capital flight, investors have cited the Khodorkovsky case as an example of Russia’s failure to respect the rule of law. Khodorkovsky, 49, says he was targeted for financing opposition parties, an accusation the Kremlin denies. Yukos was sold in pieces, mostly to state-run OAO Rosneft (ROSN), to cover tens of billions of dollars in back taxes.
“There has been no personal persecution,” Putin told a press conference in Moscow. “Everyone tries to tie it to politics,” he said. “There was no such thing. This was purely about an economic crime.”
Putin said at a call-in news conference two years ago that Khodorkovsky has blood on his hands and that “thieves should sit in jail.” Khodorkovsky has said he’s not guilty.
Today’s decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court, Anna Usacheva, a spokeswoman for the Moscow City court, said by text message.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, 56, were sentenced to eight-year terms in 2005 and convicted again on new charges in December 2010. The sentences include time served: Lebedev was detained on July 2, 2003, and Khodorkovsky was arrested on the tarmac of a Siberian airport on Oct. 25 of that year.
Khodorkovsky had been due for release in September 2016. Putin, who extended his 12-year rule in March presidential elections, will serve as head of state until May 2018 and could run for re-election for one more six-year term.
Putin last week threw his support behind an initiative to repatriate as much as $1 trillion in capital held by companies and politicians abroad. Russia may have net capital outflow of $67 billion this year after $80.5 billion last year, central bank Chairman Sergey Ignatiev said Dec. 19.
The president today urged the billionaire shareholders of TNK-BP, which Rosneft plans to acquire in the first half of next year, to bring back to Russia the $28 billion they’ll get for their 50 percent of the venture.
“I would very much like for them to invest the proceeds or a significant part in Russia’s economy,” Putin said.
Rosneft agreed this year to buy TNK-BP in Russia’s biggest- ever acquisition from BP Plc (BP/) and AAR, which represents Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Len Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg.
Fridman, like Khodorkovsky, was one of the “seven bankers” group of oligarchs who helped bankroll Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996, after gaining assets in state sales.
BP will get $17 billion and 12.8 percent of Rosneft, while pledging to buy $4.8 billion more of the Russian oil producer’s stock from the state. AAR offshore vehicles are set to get $28 billion in cash.
To contact the reporters on this story: Olga Tanas in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org; Henry Meyer in Moscow at email@example.com
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