Russia High Court May Open Door for Yukos Tycoon’s Return

Russia’s highest court will review cases against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most famous inmate until last week, possibly overturning a 17 billion-ruble ($520 million) tax claim against the former oil billionaire.

The head of Russia’s Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, ordered the review of a first of two cases to comply with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights this year, Pavel Odintsov, a court spokesman, said today by phone. The European court ruled that Khodorkovsky shouldn’t personally have to pay tax arrears claimed from Yukos Oil Co.

Khodorkovsky was estimated to be Russia’s richest man before he was arrested on a Siberian airstrip for tax evasion in 2003 and his oil producer was bankrupted and sold off in pieces, mostly to state-controlled OAO Rosneft.

Khodorkovsky, who was flown to Berlin Dec. 20 after a surprise pardon from President Vladimir Putin, said he’s ruled out a trip to Russia for fear of not being allowed to leave again because of the tax case. His business associate Platon Lebedev remains in prison in Russia. Their sentences were due to end next year.

“I welcome the Supreme Court’s decision,” Khodorkovsky said in a statement posted on his website. “I really hope the bureaucratic procedures won’t take too long and will allow Platon Lebedev to get his freedom sooner.”

The Supreme Court chairman also asked the court’s presidium to review a second case based on an appeal by Khodorkovsky’s lawyers.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is positive but preliminary,” Vadim Klyuvgant, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky, said by phone today.

The cases will be reviewed “relatively soon,” Odintsov said by phone today.

Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment has been held up by the U.S. and Europe to symbolize selective justice in Russia. When released, he was potentially facing another seven years of jail on new $10 billion money-laundering charges, according to law enforcement officials.

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