Mikhail Khodorkovksy’s Pardon

December 20, 2013

This article was originally published in Kommersant, originally titled “Mikhail Khodorkovsky Surrenders to Pardon.” It reports on what was happening behind the scenes when Mikhail Khodorkovsky made the decision to ask for a presidential pardon. The claims have not been verified, but in an official statement, Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote, “the issue of admission of guilt was not raised.” A copy of Putin’s pardon can be read here. — Ed.

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was signing a decree on the pardoning of the former head of YUKOS, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. According to the official version, Khodorkovsky appealed to him due to his mother’s serious illness. Since such an appeal automatically presupposes an admission of the lawfulness of all the judicial acts carried out in his regard, Mikhail Khodorkovsky will not be able to attain rehabilitation in Russia, and apparently will also lose the battle for YUKOS’ property which he could have begun abroad.

President Putin explained the forthcoming pardon of Khodorkovsky by the fact that he had already served a large portion of his sentence, and by the fact that the former YUKOS head had problems of a humanitarian nature – his mother is seriously ill.

Marina Filippovna Khodorkovskaya told Kommersant that she learned from the media about the decision of her son [to appeal for a pardon], whom she had last seen in the summer of this year in the colony in Serezha.

“I was in the hospital for three months and was only discharged a week ago – all my old illnesses have grown more severe and new ones have broken out. Boris Moiseyevich [Khodorkovsky’s father] has turned 80. And his health has also become poor.”

Mrs. Khodorkovskaya found it hard to say whether her son had written an appeal for a pardon himself “under someone’s pressure or under dictation.”

“I know under what conditions he has spent the last ten years. And only a person who has suffered exactly the same could judge him,” she added.

Khodorkovsky’s term was due to finish next year and he was supposed to be released on Saturday, 23 August 2014. However, until recently, the former YUKOS head had categorically refused to acknowledge his guilt and continued to actively appeal the judicial decisions in his case. In particular, in December, an appeal for supervision was addressed to Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of the Russian Supreme Court, in which Khodorkovsky urged the abolition of the sentence of the Khamovnichesky District Court in Moscow in 2010, and all subsequent judicial acts under which in total he had received a total sentence of 10 years and 10 months of imprisonment.

However, on 6 December, Russian Federation Deputy Prosecutor General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev told Interfax that several criminal cases were being investigated regarding Khodorkovsky “which have a good prospect of coming to trial.” Zvyagintsev did not specify which cases precisely. And he could hardly know about their existence; he is responsible at the Prosecutor General’s Office for international legal cooperation, but another deputy prosecutor general, Viktor Grin, is responsible for the Russian Investigative Committee, which is investigating the YUKOS case.

Nevertheless, after Zvyagintsev’s statement, the media reported that there were at a minimum two criminal cases in which Khodorkovsky could become a defendant – a new case under Art. 174 of the Russian Criminal Code (legalization [laundering] of cash or other property) and the so-called “Experts’ Case”. The latter case involved experts invited by the Russian Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society , accused of declaring the sentence in YUKOS’ second case as unlawful in exchange for honoraria.

The investigation did not comment officially on this information, and lawyers did not know anything about the cases. But nevertheless, the impression was created that Khodorkovsky was being pressured, including through the media, toward making some decision, by threatening him otherwise with new criminal prosecution.

In recent days, Kommersant sources say that intelligence officers had a conversation with Khodorkovsky in which they told him about the worsening condition of his mother, who is suffering from cancer, and about a new criminal case, which was just about to be opened. This conversation, which took place without lawyers, is what forced Khodorkovsky to appeal to the president.

Yesterday, Putin said that he doesn’t see the prospect of a third case for YUKOS. According to Kommersant’s sources close to the investigation, the new cases regarding Khodorkovsky were not opened at all, but were all inspections conducted within the framework of the so-called main YUKOS case.

Since a pardon is applied to “a justly convicted person,” it would not make sense for Khodorkovsky to appeal the judicial decisions carried out in his regard in Russia. According to his lawyers, problems due to the pardon will arise in international courts, where former shareholders, partners and creditors of YUKOS are trying to get back property or compensation for it, because it automatically presupposes an admission of the justice of the sentences handed down (in a petition a person may not report about his guilt). This is all the more so because the Europe Court of Human Rights has already issued several decisions on appeals from Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and YUKOS itself, declaring their prosecution to be criminal, and not political.

“I do not know if Khodorkovsky will try to get back his shares in YUKOS,” said Edward Rebgun, liquidation manager of YUKOS for the bankruptcy procedure. “YUKOS was not expropriated as they say in the West; it was declared bankrupt, and in fact Western banks and funds applied for bankruptcy. And no one has confiscated the YUKOS shares for free – Rosneft was forced to obtain loans for its acquisition, on which it is paying to this day.”

We will note that Platon Lebedev did not appeal for pardon to the president. As his lawyer Aleksei Miroshnichenko, who visited him yesterday in the colony in Velsk, told Kommersant, they had only discussed submitting an appeal for supervision to the Supreme Court. For his part, Vadim Klyuvgant, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, turned out not to be briefed on his client’s actions, and in order to clarify his position, had headed to Segezha.

It is expected that Khodorkovsky will be released before the New Year’s holidays. We will note that the government did the same with former YUKOS vice president Vasily Aleksanyan. He was released by the court on bail on 31 December 2009.