Khodorkovsky Pardon Won’t Need Guilt Admission, Council Says

President Dmitry Medvedev’s human rights council urged him to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in his last weeks in office, presenting legal advice that this doesn’t need an admission of guilt from the former Yukos Oil Co. owner.

The recommendation will be discussed at the council’s meeting with Medvedev next month, the body’s head, Mikhail Fedotov, said yesterday in an interview in Novokuibyshevsk, in the Volga region of Samara. Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin will take over as head of state on May 7.

“The president has the right to pardon whomever he wants,” said Fedotov. Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, said he isn’t optimistic that his client will be freed since Putin has the final say.

Medvedev earlier this month ordered a review of the guilty verdicts against Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man. Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has until April 1 to review the cases against Khodorkovsky, 48, and his business partner Platon Lebedev, as well as 30 other people, the Kremlin press service said March 5. Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer and Putin protege who promised to improve the rule of law and attract foreign investment, has said freeing Khodorkovsky wouldn’t be dangerous.

‘Admit His Guilt’

Those seeking to free Khodorkovsky and Lebedev should follow legal procedures, Putin said March 7, adding that the European Court of Human Rights hadn’t found any political motives in his prosecution. Putin said last December that Khodorkovsky would have to petition for pardon and “effectively admit his guilt.”

Experts from Medvedev’s human rights council cited two rulings from the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008 as evidence that the president has the right to pardon a convicted person independently of his or her status in the criminal justice system, according to a copy of the legal advice published on its website today.

The jailed billionaire was arrested at gunpoint on the tarmac of a Siberian airport in October 2003. Khodorkovsky, who denies any guilt, says he was targeted by then-President Putin for financing opposition parties, an accusation the Kremlin denies.

Khodorkovsky was later sentenced to 13 years in prison after two separate convictions for fraud, tax evasion and oil embezzlement, while Yukos was dismantled and sold at auction, mostly to state-run OAO Rosneft, to cover more than $30 billion in back taxes. The U.S. and European Union said the latest conviction showed a failure to respect the rule of law that was harmful to the investment climate.

‘No Reasons’ for Optimism

“I have no reasons to be optimistic because both of our leaders have drummed it into their heads that for a pardon you need a personal appeal and admission of guilt,” Schmidt said by phone. “This isn’t the case at all and Khodorkovsky has many times said that he will never admit his guilt.”

Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 before Medvedev replaced him, has said Khodorkovsky has blood on his hands and “thieves should sit in jail.”

The Russian leader “has many other means, without losing face, to free Khodorkovsky and Lebedev,” including an amnesty, early release or a court-ordered reduced sentence, said Schmidt.

“There are such possibilities but whether Putin will use them isn’t clear. Everything depends on Putin’s will.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net; Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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