For the first time since his release, Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky is telling the world about the 10 years he spent behind bars as a critic of the Kremlin. The oil magnate, who backed an opposition party, had been in prison since 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and fraud. He was due for release next year, but President Vladimir Putin signed an amnesty decree for him Friday.
In his first television interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the former Yukos oil tycoon said there were no conditions for his release. “Mr. Putin, on a number of times, publicly said that he was ready to consider the question of my pardoning — but I had to say I was guilty for that,” Khodorkovsky said during the interview in Berlin. “That was an unacceptable condition for me.”
Russia has faced international criticism for its treatment of Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man. Countries such as the United States have accused Russia of selective prosecution and abuse of the legal system.
Khodorkovsky made a fortune in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and used the wealth of his Yukos oil company to enter Russian opposition politics. He has said his prosecution was part of a Kremlin campaign to destroy him and take control of the company he built from privatization deals of the 1990s.
While in prison, Khodorkovsky said he was stabbed in the face. “When I was stabbed with a knife I was lucky — he tried to get to my eye but he got my nose,”he said. “As a result, the dentist who was there — someone who was also a plastic surgeon — carried out an operation on me, which means it was virtually not noticeable.”
Putin’s decision to pardon Khodorkovsky — who was supposed to be released next August — is seen by many as an effort to improve the country’s image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
Officials say he was released on humanitarian grounds because his mother is ill. When asked whether he forgives Putin, the former political rival replied, “I would put it differently, perhaps. I don’t think that revenge would be any rational behavior. And something that is rational behavior I can always deal with.”