BERLIN (AP) — At an emotional press conference barely two days after he was freed from a Russian jail, Mikhail Khodorkovsky vowed Sunday to do all he can to ensure the release of other political prisoners in Russia.
The former oil tycoon spent 10 years in jail on what the West considers trumped-up political charges by President Vladimir Putin's government. He was pardoned Friday by Putin and immediately flew to Berlin, where he held a tumultuous news conference Sunday.
The robust but slightly disoriented 50-year-old said he shouldn't be viewed as a symbol that there are no more political prisoners in Russia. He added that he would do "all I can do" to ensure the release of others.
"The time that is left for me is time I would like to devote to the activity of paying back my debts to the people ... and by that I mean the people who are still in prison," he said.
However, Khodorkovsky said he would not be "involved in the struggle for power" in Russia.
Khodorkovsky said he first heard that he could possibly be freed on Nov. 12, when his lawyers told him that former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who had long worked behind the scenes on his case, "said President Putin will not make admission of guilt a condition of my release."
At 2 a.m. on Friday, he said, the commander of the prison colony in northwest Russia where he was being held "woke me up and said I was going home."
Only later did he find out "that the trip was meant to end in Berlin," Khodorkovsky added.
In other comments:
— He thanked the media and German officials like Genscher and Chancellor Angela Merkel for the constant pressure and attention that he said helped secure his release.
—He said the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in the southern Russian resort of Sochi are a "celebration of sport" that should not be "damaged" by a boycott. He also said the event "should not become a great party for President Putin."
— He said he would not be returning to the world of business since "my financial situation doesn't require me to work just to earn some more money."
Earlier, Khodorkovsky said he won't "sponsor" the Russian opposition or seek the return of his enormous stake in the now-defunct oil firm Yukos, according to the German news agency dpa.
The comments appeared to quash speculation that Khodorkovsky would take a leading role in the political opposition against Putin.
Asked whether he planned to take legal action to reclaim the assets of his dismantled Yukos oil company, he replied "I won't fight for my stake in Yukos."
Khodorkovsky flew on a private jet to Berlin right after his release Friday.
Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky was imprisoned in 2003 for tax evasion and money-laundering in cases that were widely criticized as revenge for his political activities. He faced a second trial and prison sentence in 2010, and was not due to be released from prison until next August.
Khodorkovsky had challenged Putin's dominance by funding opposition parties and was also believed at the time to have personal political ambitions.
Jim Heintz in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
- Politics & Government
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky
- President Vladimir Putin