Russian President Vladimir Putin [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] signed a decree on Friday pardoning former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive], and releasing him from prison. Khodorkovsky has already spent over a decade in prison for fraud, theft and money laundering. In a statement posted on his website, Khodorkovsky said he had requested the pardon from Putin without admitting any guilt. Putin's decree pardoned Khodorkovsky on the basis of "the principles of humanism." Upon his release, Khodorkovsky boarded a plane to Berlin, Germany. Rights groups, such as Amnesty International [advocacy website], have frequently called for Khodorkovsky's release [press release] claiming he was a prisoner of conscience.
In August the Supreme Court of Russia [official website, in Russian] reduced Khodorkovsky's prison sentence by two months. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were each serving prison sentences for fraud, theft and money laundering. In 2010 former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified that Putin had ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of Khodorkovsky for political reasons. Kasyanov stated that Putin indicated that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party without approval from the president, prompting his arrest. In late 2012 the Human Rights Ombudsman [backgrounder] in Russia, Vladimir Lukin [official profile], filed an appeal [JURIST report] in a Moscow court following the ruling against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, because the two men were ordered to pay restitution for the same losses twice, once in 2005 and once in 2010. In the same month, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had their sentences commuted [JURIST report] by the Moscow City Court from 13 years to 11 years, making both men eligible for release in 2014.