Mikhail Khodorkovsky

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky 2013-12-22 3.jpg
Khodorkovsky in 2013 after his release from prison
Born Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky
(1963-06-26) 26 June 1963 (age 52)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Russian
Ethnicity Russian Jewish (paternal)
Russian (maternal)
Alma mater Mendeleev Russian University of Chemistry and Technology
Occupation Head of Group Menatep (1990–present)
Deputy Ministry of Energy (1993)
Chairman & CEO of Yukos (1997–2004)
The New Times Columnist (2011–present)
Net worth Increase $100-$500 million [1]
Spouse(s) Elena Dobrovolskaya (divorced)
Inna Khodorkovskaya
Children 4
Khodorkovsky with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, on 20 December 2002

Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky (Russian: Михаи́л Бори́сович Ходорко́вский, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil xədɐˈrkofskʲɪj]; born 26 June 1963) is a Switzerland-based Russian exile, former Russian businessman and oligarch.[2] He is also a philanthropist, public figure, author and columnist.

In 2003, Khodorkovsky and Roman Abramovich were jointly named as Person of the Year by Expert. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia (with a fortune of over $15 billion) and one of the richest people in the world, ranked 16th on Forbes list of billionaires. He had worked his way up the Komsomol apparatus during the Soviet years, and started several businesses during the period of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1990s, he accumulated considerable wealth through obtaining control of a series of Siberian oil fields unified under the name Yukos, one of the major companies to emerge from the privatization of state assets during the 1990s (a scheme known as "Loans for Shares").

He was arrested on 25 October 2003, to appear before investigators as a witness, but within hours of being taken into custody he was charged with fraud. The government under Vladimir Putin then froze shares of Yukos shortly thereafter on tax charges. The state took further actions against Yukos, leading to a collapse of the company's share price and the evaporation of much of Khodorkovsky's wealth. He was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2005. While still serving his sentence, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were further charged and found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering in December 2010, extending his prison sentence to 2014. After Hans-Dietrich Genscher's impassioned lobbying for his release, President Vladimir Putin pardoned him, releasing him from jail on 20 December 2013.[3] There was widespread concern internationally that the trials and sentencing were politically motivated.[4][5] The trial process has received criticism from abroad for its lack of due process. Khodorkovsky lodged several applications to the European Court of Human Rights, seeking redress for alleged violations by Russia of his human rights. In response to his first application, which concerned events from 2003 to 2005, the court found that several violations were committed by the Russian authorities in their treatment of Khodorkovsky.[6] In particular, the court ruled that Khodorkovsky's arrest was "unlawful as it had been made with a purpose different from the one expressed".[7] Despite these findings, the court ultimately ruled that the trial was not politically motivated,[8][9][10] but rather "that the charges against him were grounded in 'reasonable suspicion'".[9] He was considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[5]

Upon being pardoned by Vladimir Putin and released from prison at the end of 2013, he immediately left Russia and has since lived in Switzerland where he was granted residency.[11] At the end of 2013, his personal estate was believed to be worth, as a rough estimate, $100–250 million.[12] At the end of 2014, he was said to be worth about $500 million, with his insisting on $100 million.[1]

Early years and entrepreneurship in Soviet Union[edit]

Early life[edit]

Khodorkovsky was born in Moscow, where he grew up in an ordinary Soviet family with a two-room apartment, his parents being engineers who "spent their entire careers at a measuring-instruments factory".[13] His father is Jewish and his mother is Russian Orthodox. The young Khodorkovsky was ambitious. He received excellent grades. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university, the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology, where he graduated in chemical engineering in 1986.[14] The Komsomol involvement was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standard. Incidentally this is where Khodorkovsky seized on the idea of exploiting a loophole granted to Komsomol (Young Communist League) organizations that enabled them to convert purely administrative currency units (beznalichny rubles) into cash (nalichny rubles). The cash reserves he accumulated through this practice enabled him to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union [15]

After perestroika started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market. He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. Friendship with another Komsomol leader, Alexey Golubovich, helped him greatly in his further success, since Golubovich's parents held top positions in Gosbank, the State Bank of the USSR.[15]

Café and trading[edit]

With partners from Komsomol, and technically operating under its authority, Khodorkovsky opened his first business in 1986, a private café; an enterprise made possible by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's programme of perestroika and glasnost. In 1987 they opened a Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity of the Youth, which eventually allowed him to found the bank Menatep.[16] In addition to importing and reselling computers, the "scientific" center was involved in trading a wide range of other products.

In 1992, he was appointed chairman of the Investment Promotion Fund of the fuel and power industry. He was appointed Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy of Russia in March 1993. In 1995, Menatep acquired a major Russian oil producer, Yukos, which had debts exceeding $3.5 billion, for $300 million.[17][18] Some authors, such as the French economist Jacques Sapir, attribute the relative low price of the purchase to the shadow arrangements with the Yeltsin government.[19]

By 1998, he had built an import-export business with an annual turnover of 80 million rubles (about $10 million USD).


Khodorkovsky and his partners obtained a banking license to create Bank Menatep in 1989. As one of Russia's first privately owned banks, Menatep expanded quickly, by using most of the deposits raised to finance Khodorkovsky's successful import-export operations. The government granted Bank Menatep the right to manage funds allocated for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. In a prophetic statement of the time, Khodorkovsky is quoted as saying:[15]

"Many years later I talked with people and asked them, why didn't you start doing the same thing? Why didn't you go into it? Because any head of an institute had more possibilities than I had, by an order of magnitude. They explained that they had all gone through the period when the same system was allowed. And then, at best, people were unable to succeed in their career and, at worst, found themselves in jail. They were all sure that would be the case this time, and that is why they did not go into it. And I" —Khodorkovsky lets out a big, broad laugh at the memory — "I did not remember this! I was too young! And I went for it."

His bank Menatep, along with other Russian banks, would hold on to government funds for months at a time in order to speculate on exchange rates and other investments, enriching the bank's owners at the expense of the designated recipients of the government funds. Investment tenders were followed by an even more infamous "give-away" of Russian state assets to select business elites—the loans-for-shares program, which introduced the term "oligarch" to describe the handful of beneficiaries. In the loans-for-shares auctions, the auctioneers were often the same as the bidders—the auctions were rigged and the state knew it. It was during this period that Khodorkovsky acquired the Yukos oil company for about $300 million through a rigged auction. Khodorkovsky subsequently went on a campaign to raise investment funds abroad, borrowing hundreds of millions. When the 1998 financial crisis struck Russia, Khodorkovsky defaulted on some of his foreign debt and took his Yukos shares offshore to protect them from creditors.[15]


Khodorkovsky is also a philanthropist. In 2001, Khodorkovsky launched the Open Russia Foundation in Somerset House in London, owned by the Rothschild's Family Trust, with Henry Kissinger as its trustee. The Foundation's mission statement declared as follows: "The motivation for the establishment of the Open Russia Foundation is the wish to foster enhanced openness, understanding and integration between the people of Russia and the rest of the world." The following year it had its United States launch in Washington, DC.[20][21] His efforts include the provision of internet-training centres for teachers, a forum for the discussion by journalists of reform and democracy, and the establishment of foundations which finance archaeological digs, cultural exchanges, summer camps for children and a boarding school for orphans.[22][23]

Khodorkovsky is openly critical of what he refers to as "managed democracy" within Russia. Careful normally not to criticise the current leadership, he says the military and security services exercise too much authority. He told The Times:

"It is the Singapore model, it is a term that people understand in Russia these days. It means that theoretically you have a free press, but in practice there is self-censorship. Theoretically you have courts; in practice the courts adopt decisions dictated from above. Theoretically there are civil rights enshrined in the constitution; in practice you are not able to exercise some of these rights."[24]

Khordorkovsky promoted social programs through Yukos in regions where the company operated, one example being "New Civilization", in Angarsk, which promoted student government to young adults. The scout program incorporated aspects of student government. Participants from throughout the country spent their holidays organizing student-governed bodies at summer camps.[25]

Relationship with Vladimir Putin[edit]

President Putin with Khodorkovsky (right) and Mikhail Fridman (centre), May 2001

In February 2003, at a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky argued with Putin about corruption. He implied that major government officials were accepting millions in bribes. In early 2012, prior to the Russian presidential election, the writer and activist Masha Gessen wrote that Khodorkovsky and Putin had both underestimated each other. "During his eight years in confinement, Khodorkovsky has become Russia's most trusted public figure and Putin's biggest political liability. As long as Putin rules Russia and Khodorkovsky continues to act like Khodorkovsky, Khodorkovsky will remain in prison—and Putin will remain terrified of him".[13]

On 20 December 2013, Putin signed a pardon freeing Khodorkovsky.[26] Following his release, Khodorkovsky addressed the media at a news conference in Berlin, Germany. He referred to himself as a "political prisoner", and stated he would not re-enter business or politics.[27]

Merger with Sibneft[edit]

In April 2003, Khodorkovsky announced that Yukos would merge with Sibneft, creating an oil company with reserves equal to those of Western petroleum multinationals. Khodorkovsky had been reported to be negotiating with ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco about them taking a large stake in Yukos. Sibneft was created in 1995, at the suggestion of Boris Berezovsky, comprising some of the most valuable assets of a state-owned oil company. In a controversial auction process, Berezovsky acquired 50% of the company at what most agree was a very low price.[citation needed]

When Berezovsky had a confrontation with Putin, and felt compelled to leave Russia for London (where he was granted asylum), he assigned his shares in Sibneft to Roman Abramovich. Abramovich subsequently agreed to the merger. With 19.5 billion barrels (3 km³) of oil and gas, the merged entity would have owned the second-largest oil and gas reserves in the world after ExxonMobil and would have been the fourth largest in the world in terms of production, pumping 2.3 million barrels (370,000 m³) of crude a day. However, the merger was recalled by the shareholders of Sibneft after the arrest of Khodorkovsky.

In a Foreign Affairs article on the situation in 1998–99, Lee Wolosky, a former counterterrorism official under the Clinton administration, detailed how Yukos "managed to siphon off some $800 million during a span of approximately 36 weeks" in 1999 through transfer pricing, forcing Yukos' Russian subsidiaries to sell oil at a fraction of world market prices to the holding company. Wolosky also described how Khodorkovsky had engaged in massive asset stripping of Yukos subsidiaries following the 1998 financial crisis:

After three international banks acquired approximately 30 percent of Yukos following a default on a loan to an affiliated bank, Khodorkovsky sought to turn Yukos into an empty shell. He forced it to convey its most significant asset – its controlling position in oil production subsidiaries – to unknown offshore entities. At the same time, he attempted the mother of all share dilutions: by transferring a massive number of new shares to offshore entities he is believed to control.[28]

According to Wolosky, Khodorkovsky and his colleagues, unsatisfied, continued the looting "more directly—by stealing valuable assets, including wells, equipment, and anything else that can be found on an oil field", and between 1997 and 1998, Yukos had plundered $3.5 billion worth of assets. Wolosky further blamed Khodorkovsky to be complicit in two contract killings between 1998 and 1999:

In June 1998, the mayor of Nefteyugansk was murdered. That spring, he had led a very public crusade and hunger strike against Yukos, protesting the enormous wage and tax arrears that he argued were impoverishing the region ... The mayor had previously sent a secret cable to Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko requesting his assistance in the showdown. But the mayor was found dead before Kiriyenko could answer.[28]

Criminal charges and incarceration[edit]


In early July 2003, Platon Lebedev, Khodorkovsky's partner and fourth largest shareholder in Yukos, was arrested on suspicion of illegally acquiring a stake in state-owned fertilizer firm Apatit in 1994. The arrest was followed by investigations into taxation returns filed by Yukos, and a delay to the antitrust commission's approval for its merger with Sibneft.[29][30]

Khodorkovsky was himself arrested in October 2003, charged with fraud and tax evasion. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said that Khodorkovsky and his associates cost the state more than $1 billion in lost revenues.[citation needed]

On 31 March 2009, a new trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev began in Moscow on fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering. The two men face up to 22 more years in prison.[31] Khodorkovsky refused to enter a plea, stating that he did not understand the charges.[32]

According to the sentence in the second trial, the companies that extracted oil (such as Yuganskneftegaz and Tomskneft, in which Yukos held major stake, but did not have 100% ownership), would sell all their oil to different shell companies below market rates, and the shell companies would re-sell it to the eventual buyer at market rates.[33] Shell companies, unlike oil-extracting companies, would be owned 100% by Khodorkovsky, Lebedev et al. Those shell companies had very few employees, conducted no other activity than reselling the oil, and some of them had offices in office buildings owned by Yukos. As a result, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted of embezzlement from the oil companies and some of the oil companies' minority shareholders acted as witnesses for the prosecution during the trial.

Impact of arrest[edit]

Initially news of Khodorkovsky's arrest had a significant effect on the share price of Yukos. The Moscow stock market was closed for the first time ever for an hour in order to assure stable trading as prices collapsed. Russia's currency, the ruble, was also hit as some foreign investors questioned the stability of the Russian market. Media reaction in Moscow was almost universally negative in blanket coverage, some of the more enthusiastic pro-business press discussed the end of capitalism, while even the government-owned press criticised the "absurd" method of Khodorkovsky's arrest.

Yukos moved quickly to replace Khodorkovsky with a Russian-born U.S. citizen, Simon Kukes. Simon Kukes, who became the CEO of Yukos, was already an experienced oil executive.

The U.S. State Department said the arrest "raised a number of concerns over the arbitrary use of the judicial system" and was likely to be very damaging to foreign investment in Russia, as it appeared there were "selective" prosecutions occurring against Yukos officials but not against others.

A week after the arrest, the Prosecutor-General froze Khodorkovsky's shares in Yukos to prevent Khodorkovsky from selling his shares although he retains all the shares' voting rights and receives dividends. In 2003 Khodorkovsky's shares in Yukos passed to Jacob Rothschild under a deal they concluded prior to Khodorkovsky's arrest.[34][35][36]

Criminal charges[edit]

The criminal charges against Khodorkovsky read as follows:

In 1994, while chairman of the board of the Menatep commercial bank in Moscow, M. B. Khodorkovsky created an organized group of individuals with the intention of taking control of the shares in Russian companies during the privatisation process through deceit and in the process of committing this crime managed the activities of this company.

Khodorkovsky was charged with acting illegally in the privatisation process of the former state-owned mining and fertiliser company Apatit. It is alleged that Platon Lebedev, the CEO of Bank Menatep and large shareholder in Yukos, assisted Khodorkovsky. Lebedev was arrested and charged in July 2003.

According to the prosecution, all four companies that participated in the privatization tender for 20% of Apatit's stock in 1994 were shell companies controlled by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, registered to create an illusion of competitive bidding that was required by the law. One of the shell companies that won that tender, AOZT Volna, was supposed to invest approximately $280 million in Apatit in the next year, according to their winning bid. The investment was not made and Apatit sued to return their 20% of stock. At this point, Khodorkovsky had transferred the required sum into Apatit's account at Khodorkovsky's bank Menatep and sent the financial documents to the court, so Apatit's lawsuit was thrown out. The next day the money was transferred back from Apatit's account to Volna's account, after which Volna sold the stock in small installments to several smaller shell companies, which were, in turn, owned by more Khodorkovsky-owned companies registered in Cyprus, Isle of Man, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and other offshore tax havens.

In 2002, Volna settled the Apatit lawsuit by paying $15 million to the privatization authorities, even though it no longer owned Apatit stock. However, according to the prosecution, that $15 million sum was based on the incorrect valuation which was too low. Allegedly, at the time Apatit was selling off the fertilizer, it was producing to multiple Khodorkovsky-owned shell companies below market value, thereby decreasing Apatit's profits as well as corporate valuation (the shell companies later re-sold the fertilizer at market value).

In addition, prosecutors conducted an extensive investigation into Yukos for offences that went beyond the financial and tax-related charges. Reportedly there were three cases of murder and one of attempted murder linked to Yukos, if not Khodorkovsky himself.

One area of interest to the Prosecutor-General included the 1998 assassination of the mayor of Nefteyugansk in the Tyumen region, Vladimir Petukhov.[37] Nefteyugansk was the main centre of oil production within the Yukos empire. Suspicions arose in Nefteyugansk because Petukhov had publicly and frequently campaigned about Yukos' non-payment of local taxes. Former Yukos chief security official, Alexey Pichugin, had been charged with the murders of Vladimir Petukhov, Sergey and Olga Gorin, Valentina Korneyeva and Nikolai Fedotov.

President Putin himself commented on this aspect of the investigation while questioned about the investigation into Yukos in September 2003. President Putin said:

The case is about Yukos and the possible links of individuals to murders in the course of the merging and expansion of this company ... the privatizations are the least of the reasons for it ... in such a case, how can I interfere with prosecutors' work?

The verdict of the trial, repeating the prosecutors' indictments almost verbatim, was 662 pages long. As is customary in Russian trials, the judges read the verdict aloud, beginning on 16 May 2005 and finishing on 31 May. Khodorkovsky's lawyers alleged that it was read as slowly as possible to minimize public attention*.[38]

Khodorkovsky was defended by Karinna Moskalenko. The General Prosecutor's Office later initiated a case against Moskalenko, charging negligence in her defense of Khordorkovsky, and seeking her disbarment. On June 21, 2007, the Bar Council of the city of Moscow decided to terminate the disciplinary proceedings against Moskalenko. Khodorkovsky did not lodge any complaints against Moskalenko, and said he was "fully satisfied" with her conduct.[39]

Prosecutors stated that they operated independently of the government appointed by President Putin. The Prosecutor-General, Vladimir Ustinov, was appointed by the former President Boris Yeltsin and was not seen as being particularly close to Putin, who once tried to remove him. However, he was politically ambitious and prosecuting Russia's most prominent and successful tycoon was perceived as a boost to his political career and intended candidacy for the Duma.

Judicial controversy[edit]

On 14 February 2011, Natalya Vasilyeva, an assistant to the judge who convicted Khodorkovsky, Viktor Danilkin, said that the judge did not write the verdict, and had read it against his will.[28] Essentially, Natalya Vasilyeva said the judge's verdict was "brought from the Moscow City Court".[40] In her statement she also noted that "everyone in the judicial community understands perfectly that this is a rigged case, a fixed trial".[40] On 24 February Vasilyeva underwent a polygraph test, which indicated that she likely believes that Danilkin acted under pressure.[41] Judge Danilkin responded that "the assertion by Natalya Vasilyeva was nothing more than slander".[42]

Third-party support[edit]

Khodorkovsky received a support from independent third parties who believed that he was a victim of a politicized judicial system.[43] On 29 November 2004, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights published a report, which concluded, "the circumstances of the arrest and prosecution of leading Yukos executives suggest that the interest of the State's action in these cases goes beyond the mere pursuit of criminal justice, to include such elements as to weaken an outspoken political opponent, to intimidate other wealthy individuals and to regain control of strategic economic assets".[44]

In June 2009 the Council of Europe published a report which criticized the Russian government's handling of the Yukos case, entitled "Allegations of Politically Motivated Abuses of the Criminal Justice System in Council of Europe Member States":[45]

"The Yukos affair epitomises this authoritarian abuse of the system. I wish to recall here the excellent work done by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, in her two reports on this subject. I do not intend to comment on the ins and outs of this case which saw Yukos, a privately owned oil company, made bankrupt and broken up for the benefit of the state owned company Rosneft. The assets were bought at auction by a rather obscure financial group, Baikalfinansgroup, for almost €7 billion. It is still not known who is behind this financial group. A number of experts believe that the state-owned company Gazprom had a hand in the matter. The former heads of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, were sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for fraud and tax evasion. Vasiliy Aleksanyan, former vice-chairman of the company, who is suffering from Aids, was released on bail in January 2009 after being held in inhuman conditions condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.3 Lastly, Svetlana Bakhmina, deputy head of Yukos's legal department, who was sentenced in 2005 to six and a half years' imprisonment for tax fraud, saw her application for early release turned down in October 2008, even though she had served half of her sentence, had expressed "remorse" and was seven months pregnant. Thanks to the support of thousands of people around the world and the personal intervention of the United States President, George W. Bush, she was released in April 2009 after giving birth to a girl on 28 November 2008."

Statements of support for Khodorkovsky and criticism of the state's persecution have been passed by the Italian Parliament, the German Bundestag, and the U.S. House of Representatives, among many other official bodies.[46]

In June 2010, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and human rights activist, began a campaign to raise awareness of the Khodorkovsky trial and advocate for his release.[47]

In November 2010, Amnesty International Germany began a petition campaign demanding that President Medvedev get an independent review of all criminal charges against Khodorkovsky, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.[48] On 24 May 2011, Amnesty International criticized Lebedev and Khodorkovsky's second trial, named them prisoners of conscience, and called for their release on the expiry of their initial sentences.[5]

Yelena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov, never stopped defending Khodorkhovsky: "I think that any person becomes a political prisoner if the law is applied to him selectively, and this is an absolutely clear case. This is a glaringly lawless action."[18]

In prison[edit]

On 30 May 2005, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in a medium security prison. At the time, he was detained at Matrosskaya Tishina, a prison in Moscow. On 1 August, a political essay written by Khodorkovsky in his prison cell, titled "Left Turn", was published in Vedomosti, calling for a turn to a more socially responsible state. He stated, "The next Russian administration will have to include the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Motherland Party, or the historical successors to these parties. The left-wing liberals, including Yabloko, and right-wing Ryzhkov, Khakamada and others should decide whether to join the broad social-democratic coalition or to remain grumpy and without relevance on the political sidelines. In my opinion, they have to join because only the broadest composition of a coalition in which liberal-socialist (social-democratic) views will play the key role can save us from the emergence, in the process of this turn to the left turn, from a new ultra-authoritarian regime. The new Russian authorities will have to address a left-wing agenda and meet an irrepressible demand by the people for justice. This will mean in the first instance the problems of legalizing privatization and restoring paternalistic programs and approaches in several areas."[49]

On 19 August 2005, Khodorkovsky announced that he was on a hunger strike in protest his friend and associate Platon Lebedev's placement in the punishment cell of the jail. According to Khodorkovsky, Lebedev had diabetes mellitus and heart conditions, and keeping him in the punishment cell would be equivalent to murder.

On 31 August 2005, he announced that he would run for parliament.[50] This initiative was based on the legal loophole: a convicted felon cannot vote or stand for a parliament, but if his case is lodged with the Court of Appeal he still has all the electoral rights. Usually it requires around a year to get an appeal through the Appeal Court, so it should have been enough time for Khodorkovsky to be elected. To imprison a member of Russian parliament, the parliament should vote for stripping his or her immunity. Thus, he had a hope to escape from his prosecution. But the plans were flawed, as the Court of Appeal unusually took only a couple of weeks to process Khodorkovsky's appeal, reduce his sentence by one year and invalidate any of his electoral plans until the end of his sentence.

As reported on 20 October 2005, Khodorkovsky was delivered to the labor camp YaG-14/10 (Исправительное учреждение общего режима ЯГ-14/10) of the town of Krasnokamensk near Chita.[51] The labor camp is attached to a uranium mining and processing plant and during Soviet times had a reputation as a place from which nobody returned alive.[citation needed] According to news reports, prisoners no longer work in uranium mining and have much better chances of survival than in the past. The second part of Khodorkovsky essay/thesis "Left Turn" was published in Kommersant on 11 November 2005, in which he expounded his social democratic manifesto.[52]

On 13 April 2006, Khodorkovsky was attacked by prison inmate Alexander Kuchma while he was asleep after a heated conversation. Western media immediately accused the Russian authorities of trying to play down the incident. In January 2009, the same prisoner filed a lawsuit for 500,000 rubles (~$15,000) against Khodorkovsky, accusing him of homosexual harassment.[53] Kuchma said in an interview that he was compelled to attack Khodorkovsky by two officers, beaten and threatened with death to commit the attack.[54]

On 5 February 2007, new charges of embezzlement and money laundering were brought against both Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.[55] Khodorkovsky's supporters point out that the charges come just months before Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were to become eligible for parole, as well as a year before the next Russian presidential election.[citation needed]

On 28 January 2008, Khodorkovsky began a hunger strike[56] to help his associate Vasily Aleksanyan, who is ill and was held in jail and who was denied the necessary medical treatment. Aleksanyan was transferred from a pre-trial prison to an oncological hospital on 8 February 2008,[57] after which Khodorkovsky called off his strike.[58]

While Khodorkovsky was imprisoned, Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, wrote his Symphony no. 4, and dedicated it to him. The symphony was premiered on 10 January 2009 in Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

In prison, Khodorkovsky announced that he would research for, and prepare, a PhD dissertation on the topic of Russian oil policy.[citation needed] The third part of Khodorkovsky's essay/thesis "Left Turn" with the subheading "Global Perestroika" was published in Vedomosti on 7 November 2008, in which he stated: "Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential elections is not simply the latest change of power in one individual country, albeit a superpower. We are standing on the threshold of a change in the paradigm of world development. The era whose foundations were laid by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher three decades ago is ending. Unconditionally including myself in that part of society that has liberal views, I see: ahead – is a Turn to the Left."[59][60]

In May 2010, Khodorkovsky went on a three-day hunger-strike to protest what he said was a violation of the recent law against imprisonment of persons accused of financial crimes. The law was pushed by President Medvedev after the death of Sergei Magnitsky who died in pre-trial detention in a Moscow prison in 2008.[61]

On appeal, Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev's was reduced from 11 years to 10 years and 10 months meaning they could be released in August 2014 and May 2014, respectively. Khodorkovsky's appeal read: "In this case, the usual mantra that everything is legal and well-grounded just won't do."[62]

Khodorkovsky was released from prison 20 December 2013 after being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin on the basis of "the principles of humanity".

He wrote a book, My Fellow Prisoners, detailing his time incarcerated.[63]

Political transformation[edit]

The Economist asserted in April 2010 that after six years in prison, Khodorkovsky had politically transformed from an oligarch into a political prisoner and freedom fighter: "He speaks with the authority of a chief executive of what was once Russia's largest oil company. He explains how Yukos and Russia's oil industry functioned, but he goes beyond business matters. What he is defending is not his long-lost business, but his human rights. The transformation of Mr. Khodorkovsky from a ruthless oligarch, operating in a virtually lawless climate, into a political prisoner and freedom fighter is one of the more intriguing tales in post-communist Russia."[64]

Khodorkovsky asserts his political transformation in many of his own writings from prison. On 26 October 2009, he published a response to Dmitri Medvedev's "Forward, Russia!" article in Vedomosti, arguing that "authoritarianism in its current Russian form does not meet many key humanitarian requirements customary for any country that wishes to consider itself modern and European."[65]

On 28 January 2010, Khodorkovsky authored an op-ed for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, which argued that "Russia must make a historic choice. Either we turn back from the dead end toward which we have been heading in recent years – and we do it soon – or else we continue in this direction and Russia in its current form simply ceases to exist."[66]

On 3 March 2010, Khodorkovsky wrote an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta about the "conveyor belt" of Russian justice. In this article, he states that the "siloviki conveyor belt, which has undermined justice is truly the gravedigger of modern Russian statehood. Because it turns many thousands of the country's most active, sensible and independent citizens against this statehood – with enviable regularity."[67]

In conclusion, The Economist opined, "any talk by the Kremlin of the rule of law or about modernisation will be puffery so long as Mr Khodorkovsky remains in jail".

Second trial[edit]


Khodorkovsky became eligible for parole after having served half of his original sentence, however, in February 2007, state prosecutors began to prepare new charges of embezzlement, leading up to a second trial which began in March 2009. Prosecutors filed new charges against Khodorkovsky, alleging that he stole 350 million tons of oil, charges which Kommersant described as "Compared with the previous version, only stylistic inaccuracy has been improved, and some of the paragraphs have been swapped".[68] Others pointed out that the new charges were impossible given that he was previously convicted on tax evasion of the same allegedly stolen oil. According to Khodorkovsky's lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, "The position of the prosecutors is also self-contradictory. ... Khodorkovsky is now serving a sentence for tax evasion, and if they are asserting that he stole all the oil his company produced, what did he go to prison for the first time if there was nothing to be taxed?"[69]

During a visit to Moscow in July 2009, President Barack Obama said: "it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole."[70]

The verdict was originally scheduled for 15 December, but was delayed without explanation until 27 December.[71] Just a few days before the verdict was read by the judge before the court, Vladimir Putin made public comments with regard to his opinion of Khodorkovsky's guilt, saying "a thief should sit in jail".[72] On 27 December 2010, Judge Viktor Danilkin handed down a guilty verdict, convicting Khodorkovsky and Lebedev of stealing the full 350 million tons of oil, instead of the reduced 218 million tons as requested by the prosecutors. The judge sentenced them to 13.5 years in prison, later reduced to 12 years, one year less than the maximum sentence, which, when combined with time already served, will keep them in jail until 2017.

On 24 May 2011, Khodorkovsky's appeal hearing was held, and Judge Danilkin rejected the challenge.[73] Following the rejection of the appeal, the human rights group Amnesty International declared Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as "prisoners of conscience", remarking in a statement that "Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev's first convictions there can no longer be any doubt that their second trial was deeply flawed and politically motivated."[5]

In June 2011, Khodorkovsky was sent to prison colony No. 7 of Segezha, in the northern region of Karelia near the Finnish border.[74]

Final words[edit]

On 2 November 2010, Mikhail Khodorkovsky delivered his final words to the court in the closing of the second trial. The speech, which has received significant media coverage, included the following passages:[75]

I am ashamed for my country.
Your honour, I think we all perfectly understand the significance of our trial extends far beyond the fates of Platon [Lebedev] and myself. And even beyond the fates of all those who have innocently suffered in the course of the reprisals against YUKOS that have taken place on such a huge scale, those I found myself unable to protect, but about whom I have not forgotten. I remember every day.
Let's ask ourselves, what does the entrepreneur, the top class organizer of production, or simply an educated, creative individual, think today looking at our trial and knowing that the result is absolutely predictable?
The obvious conclusion a thinking person would come to is chilling in its simplicity: the bureaucratic and law enforcement machine can do whatever it wants. There is no right of private property. No person who conflicts with the "system" has any rights whatsoever.
Even when enshrined in law, rights are not protected by the courts. Because the courts are either also afraid, or are part of the "system". Does it come as a surprise that thinking people do not strive to realize themselves here in Russia?

He continued:

I am far from being an ideal person, but I am a person with ideals. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in prison, and I do not want to die here.
But if I have to, I will have no hesitation. What I believe in is worth dying for. I think I have shown this.

In response to Khodorkovsky's speech, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote, "I have never been so moved by the words of a businessman. ... It should make no difference that he was once rich and once an oligarch. What matters is that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is fighting for political freedom and the rule of law, putting his life on the line for ideals we claim to hold dear."[76]

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl argued[77] that "Khodorkovsky delivered what is likely to stand as a historic indictment of the Putin-Medvedev regime. ... Because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet, Khodorkovsky was regarded skeptically for many years by the sort of people who usually defend Russian dissidents. That's no longer true: Elie Wiesel is campaigning for him; Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and French philosopher André Glucksmann have taken up his case. The U.S. Senate, prompted by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin and Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, passed a resolution saying Khodorkovsy and Lebedev 'are prisoners who have been denied basic due process rights under international law for political reasons.'"

Three weeks after the trial ended, Khodorkovsky managed to make his voice heard again, something he did, embarrassingly for the Kremlin,[citation needed] just as Dmitri Medvedev was giving the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asking for more foreign investment for Russia.[citation needed] A "dependent court is in no way better than a bandit's club", stated Khodorkovsky. "Both tools are equally unacceptable for settling grievances in a civilized society". His lawyers had "invited four newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune, to submit written questions to him after the second trial. The questions were given to him on 31 December 2010, and the replies were delivered in late January 2011. Khodorkovsky "call[ed] on people to believe in the sincerity of President Medvedev's attempts ... but not to accept desires and simulations in the place of clearly defined obligations and working institutions".[78][79]


Presidential Decree No.922 granting pardon to Mikhail Khodorkovsky on 20 December 2013

According to his official site, Khodorkovsky would have been eligible for early release, but an alleged conspiracy involving jail guards and a cellmate resulted in a statement that he had violated one of the prison rules. This was sufficient for him to forfeit his rights, once the statement was logged in his file.[80]

It was predicted that he might be released by the middle of 2011,[81] although Khodorkovsky was found guilty on 27 December 2010 of fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering, which had the potential of leading to a new sentence of up to 2212 years. "The second as well as the first case were organized by Igor Sechin", he said in an interview with The Sunday Times from a remand prison in the Siberian city of Chita, 4,000 miles (6,400 km) east of Moscow.[80]

On 22 August 2008, he was denied parole by Judge Igor Faliliyev, at the Ingodinsky regional court in Chita, Siberia. The basis for this was in part because Khodorkovsky "refused to attend jail sewing classes".[82]

In the second trial, the prosecutors asked the judge for a 14-year sentence, which was just one year less than the maximum. The judge, Danilkin, handed down the verdict on 30 December 2010 in which he upheld the prosecutors' statements. Taking into account the time already served, Khodorkovsky was to be released in 2017.[83][84] U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned or expressed concern over Khodorkovsky's extended sentence. The White House said it brought Russia's legal system into question.[85][86][87]

On 15 February Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of Russia's Supreme Court, suggested reviving an old Soviet practice under which a maximum sentence for a person charged with different crimes should not exceed the sentence attached to the most serious charge: in Khodorkovsky's case, nine years.[40] Since he has been in jail since October 2003, this would have meant releasing him in October 2012, which did not happen.[40]

On 5 March 2012, the day after Putin won his third term as President of Russia, President Medvedev ordered a review of Khodorkovsky's sentence.[88]

In December 2012, a Moscow court reduced Khodorkovsky's prison sentence by two years, so that he was due to be released in 2014. In the same court case Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon Lebedev had his prison sentence reduced by two years. The 2010 case would have had them released 13 years after the day of their arrests in 2003.[89]

Mikhail Khodorkovsky after release

On 19 December 2013, President Vladimir Putin said he intended to pardon Khodorkovsky in the near future.[90] He did so on the following day,[91] stating that Khodorkovsky's mother was ill and Khodorkovsky had asked for clemency. Putin also felt that ten years in jail was still "a significant punishment". Some opposition leaders think it is possible the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may have played a role in the granting of the pardon.[92] Khodorkovsky was released from prison on the same day he was pardoned, and immediately left for Berlin, Germany.[93][94]

Khodorkovsky released a statement in which he thanked the former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher for securing his release.[3]

AP reported the following on 23 December 2013 reflecting Khodorkovsky's latest public comments just two days after his release, saying, "The 50-year-old appeared composed at his first public appearance since his release, saying 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."[95]

After his release Khodorkovsky acknowledged the support he received from the Swiss Federal Court that in 2008 ruled not to release documents to the Russian authorities, which tied him and Yukos, the largest Russian oil company at the time, to prominent banks and financial institutions. The Swiss court argued that this would endanger his chance for a fair trial through sidelining such type of information to "declared or potential political adversaries".[96] Khodorkovsky has also personal ties to Switzerland where his wife Inna and two of his children reside. Soon after his step to freedom, he applied for a Swiss visa, which would give him the possibility to travel to most European countries.[97] This visa has since been approved by Swiss authorities, and Khodorkovsky arrived in Basel, Switzerland, on January 5, 2014. Yukos shareholders were awarded $50 billion in compensation by the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague in July 2014, however Khodorkovsky was not a party to the legal action.[98]

Life after prison[edit]

Khodorkovsky at Maidan in Kiev, Ukraine, 9 March 2014

Following his pardon and release from prison on 20 December 2013, Mikhail Khodorkovsky made only a few public appearances until the revolution broke out in Ukraine. On 9 March 2014, Khodorkovsky spoke at Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev, where he accused the Russian government of complicity in the killing of protesters.[99] Khodorkovsky also spoke before the Ukraine Polytechnic Institute, where he stated his vision for future political activity: "I am an unconditional supporter of building a law-based democratic nation-state with a unitary civil nation in Russia, and unconditionally support the analogous aspirations of the Ukrainian people."[100]

In March 2014, Khodorkovsky was presented with the "Man of the Year" award by the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. During his acceptance speech for the award, Khodorkovsky commented: "While in Warsaw these days, one cannot but mention Ukraine that both Poles and Russians alike hold dear to their hearts. Both you and we care about what is happening in our neighbor’s house. I was recently in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk and I saw for myself what was going on there. The country is literally being torn apart into pieces, despite its will. All of this brings to mind how empires of the 18th and 19th centuries broke up countries, things that Poland is so familiar with."[101] Khodorkovsky also delivered keynote speeches at the Le Monde Festival, the Freedom House Awards Dinner, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Oslo Freedom Forum.

On September 20, 2014, Khodorkovsky officially relaunched the Open Russia movement, with a live teleconference broadcast featuring groups of civil society activists and pro-democracy opposition in Kaliningrad, St Petersburg, Voronezh and Ekaterinburg, among others. According to media around the time of the launch event, Open Russia is intended to unite pro-European Russians in a bid to challenge Putin’s grip on power. Speaking to French newspaper Le Monde, Khodorkovsky said "I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally. But if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favour of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task.”[102] Open Russia continues to hold regular online forums.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]