Kremlin rules against Khodorkovsky pardon: official

A file picture taken on June 3, 2011 shows former Yukos oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky (R) smiling in a courtroom during a trial in Moscow. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV

MOSCOW: Russia's jailed anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky faced another four years in prison on Tuesday after a top Kremlin rights adviser said he had been refused a pardon by President Dmitry Medvedev.

The outgoing president unexpectedly ordered a review of the conviction of Khodorkovsky and 31 others upon Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election to a third term as Kremlin chief on March 4.

The high-profile Yukos oil company founder was jailed on fraud charges in the middle of Putin's first presidency in 2003 and then convicted again in 2010 in a second trial that was staged months before his scheduled release.

Press speculation that he would be granted a pardon before Medvedev formally hands over power to Putin on May 7 emerged after a group of experts decided that Khodorkovsky did not have to admit his guilt in order to win his release.

"The president disagrees with this opinion," Kremlin rights council head Mikhail Fedotov told Moscow Echo radio.

He had earlier told RIA Novosti that Medvedev had already signed a resolution saying he disagreed with the experts' opinion.

The decision to review the cases was sparked by a February meeting between Medvedev and members of unregistered political parties that had been staging three months of street protests against Putin's return.

Medvedev is scheduled to meet the opposition leaders for a second time on Tuesday and Fedotov's announcement appeared aimed at calming speculation that Russia's most famous prisoner could soon be released.

Khodorkovsky's initial conviction had long defined the dangers in the eyes of Western investors of doing business in a country where much appears to depend on a person's relationship with the state.

The oil baron openly funded Putin's opposition in the early stages of his 2000-2008 presidency.

The tycoon's supports claim that his second trial was orchestrated to make sure that Khodorkovsky did not intefere with Putin's successful return to the Kremlin by speaking out against him upon his release.

Medvedev was seen as the more liberal leader when he replaced Putin on the ex-KGB spy's enforced departure at the end of a second consecutive term.





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