Court review of fine hanging over Khodorkovsky could open way for his return to Russia
Court review of huge fine hanging over freed former oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky could open door for him to go back to Russia
Russia's supreme court has said it will review a ruling that imposed a US$549 million fine on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, opening the way for the recently freed former oligarch to return to Russia.
Khodorkovsky, who is currently in Germany, is believed to be planning a move to Switzerland with his family.
He was granted amnesty by Russian president Vladimir Putin after 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion.
Khodorkovsky has insisted he will not return to Moscow as long as the fine looms over him.
The court review may also reduce the jail term imposed on Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon Lebedev, who was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Both men - formerly heads of Russia's largest oil company, Yukos - were jailed in 2003 in what many believe was a political move by the Kremlin to punish and subdue criticism that Khodorkovsky had funded.
After Putin unexpectedly pardoned Khodorkovsky last week, Russian authorities hastily smuggled the ex-oligarch to Germany in a covert operation that involved two chartered aircraft and the assistance of former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
The secrecy that shrouded the operation encouraged international media to assume that Khodorkovsky had been expelled from Russia into political exile, drawing comparisons to the expulsion of writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the USSR to Germany in 1974.
When he emerged in Berlin, Khodorkovsky seemed to confirm these suspicions, saying the outstanding US$549 million fine imposed on him and Lebedev would prevent his returning to Russia.
He said the authorities could use it to stop him from going abroad again if he did return.
In July, the European court of human rights in Strasbourg requested the fine be lifted on the grounds that it contradicted Russian laws. Russia chose not to appeal against the decision, but Vyacheslav Lebedev, the chairman of its supreme court, has now said the sentences should be reviewed, particularly the fine.
The supreme court also said the sentences handed to former Yukos managers might have been inappropriately severe and need to be reconsidered.
Lebedev is currently scheduled to be freed next July.
Khodorkovsky issued a short statement yesterday that "hailed" the decision but makes no reference to any plan to return to Russia.
But his mother, Marina Khodorkovskaya, said her son was likely to return should the fine be lifted. Khodorkovsky did include in his statement hopes that "bureaucratic procedures will not be too long and Platon Lebedev will be released soon".
Khodorkovsky's spokesman said it was still too early for an analysis of what the supreme court's review might lead to.
Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said he considers the court's decision to be "intermediate", given the vulnerability of Russian courts to political pressure.
Upon his release, Khodorkovsky said he was not going "to be involved in politics as in a struggle for power", but intended to help other political prisoners.
He has now received a three-month visa allowing him to enter Switzerland, where his wife Inna is living with their three children.