Russian former oil tycoon released from prison after Putin pardon

MOSCOW – Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent foes, was released from prison after more than a decade behind bars, officials said Friday.

Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage in a Moscow on Dec. 30, 2010. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

"He is freed from further imprisonment," the Russian Federal Prison Service wrote on their website. "After his release he has flown out to the Federal Republic of Germany, where his mother is undergoing treatment. We underline that his departure was based on his own request and the exit documents were processed following his personal request."

Khodorkovsky's lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told Reuters by telephone: "He has left the camp. That's all I can say."

Once Russia's richest man, the 50-year-old fell out spectacularly with Putin before his arrest. His company Yukos was broken up and sold off, most of it going to state oil company Rosneft, allowing the Kremlin to reassert control over much of the country’s oil sector.

Khodorkovsky, whose current net worth is unknown, became a symbol of what investors say is the Kremlin's abuse of the courts for political ends. Supporters said he was sentenced in 2005 to curb a political challenge to Putin, and as a warning to other oligarchs not to cross the Russian leader. 

Amnesty International, which campaigned for dissidents in Soviet times, declared Khodorkovsky a "prisoner of conscience."

A helicopter takes off from a field next to Penal Colony 7, where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held in the village of Segezha near Russia's border with Finland on Friday. Tatyana Makeyeva / Reuters

Putin, who had singled out the former oligarch for bitter personal attacks in the past and ignored earlier calls for his release, called Khodorkovsky’s 10-year punishment “serious.” Putin added that he had asked for clemency because Khodorkovsky’s mother was ill.

Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina, who will turn 80 next year and has had cancer, told Reuters on Thursday that she was unaware of any request for a pardon, but said she hoped it was true.

Putin also pardoned two members of the Pussy Riot protest group. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 25, were serving a two-year sentences for a crude "punk prayer" against Putin and the Russian Orthodox church in Moscow's main cathedral.

"I feel sorry for Pussy Riot not for the fact that they were jailed, but for disgraceful behavior that has degraded the image of women,” Putin said during his annual and wide-ranging televised news conference on Thursday.

It was unclear if they had been freed Friday.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.