Khodorkovsky: Russia Still Has Political Prisoners

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 speaks during his first news conference after his release in Berlin on Dec. 22, 2013. /AP Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks during his first news conference after his release in Berlin on Dec. 22, 2013. /AP

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.

VOA News / Dec. 23, 2013 07:54 KST