Russia may release Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oil billionaire who was once the country’s richest man, as part of an amnesty this month, according to President Vladimir Putin’s human rights adviser.
“I think so,” Mikhail Fedotov told reporters today outside Moscow, when asked if the amnesty would apply to Khodorkovsky and all-female punk group Pussy Riot, imprisoned last year for an anti-Putin protest in an Orthodox cathedral.
Khodorkovsky, 50, was arrested on the tarmac of a Siberian airport in 2003 and is serving almost 11 years in prison after two convictions for fraud, tax evasion and oil embezzlement. The former Yukos Oil Co. owner maintains his innocence, saying the cases against him were retribution for his opposition to Putin, which the Kremlin denies. He is due to be freed from prison next August, unless fresh charges are brought against him.
Putin, who was also president when Khodorkovsky was charged with fraud and tax evasion, returned to the Kremlin last year after four years as prime minister with a pledge of pushing Russia to 20th in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking by 2018, from 92nd this year.
Naming people who may be covered by the amnesty is “premature,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters today.
“This is speculation,” Stanislav Kopylov, who helps manage about $3 billion at UralSib Asset Management in Moscow, said by phone. “I doubt that he’ll be released even in August, not to mention right now.”
Khodorkovsky would have to petition for pardon and “effectively admit his guilt,” Putin said two years ago.
The amnesty may be declared by year-end and will apply to between 30,000 and 100,000 people not convicted of violent crimes, according to estimates by Fedotov and Vladimir Lukin, human rights ombudsman, who met with Putin today.
The measure must exclude those convicted for violent crimes against law-enforcement officials, Putin said at the meeting, asking Lukin and Fedotov to work with lawmakers on drafting the final details of the planned reprieve.
Russia detained more than two dozen people after a rally before Putin’s inauguration last year. Two members of female punk group Pussy Riot remain in prison after performing a song critical of Putin inside Moscow’s main cathedral in February 2012.
“I agree with you that such actions must have a conciliatory character, emphasizing our state’s humanism,” Putin said today. “But in no way should they lead to recidivism and encourage new offenses, creating an impression that it’s possible to commit a crime today and expect forgiveness from the state tomorrow.”
The Kremlin’s human rights council proposed “a wide-ranging amnesty” to mark the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution on 12 December 2013 at Putin’s request.
If Khodorkovsky is released, “it would be like a bomb for the Russian market as sentiment toward the country would improve,” according to Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at Otkritie Financial Corp.
Putin’s government is struggling to lure foreign investors to counter capital outflows due to corporate governance disputes this year at TNK-BP, OAO Pharmstandard, Russia’s biggest drugmaker, and OAO Uralkali, the world’s largest potash producer. Russia’s benchmark Micex Index trades at the cheapest levels of all major emerging-market indexes.
The Russian gauge surged as much as 1.6 percent in August 2008 on a report, later retracted, that Khodorkovsky had been given parole. The 50-stock index fell 0.7 percent to 1,439.26 at today’s close in Moscow.
“I tend to be skeptical seeing as Khodorkovsky is due to be released next year anyway, but I wouldn’t rule it out as an attempt to damp calls to boycott the Olympics,” Tikhomirov said by phone. Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.