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Kremlin Critic Khodorkovsky Says May Seek Asylum In Britain

  • RFE/RL

Once Russia's richest man as the chief executive of its most important oil firm, Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in a Siberian prison on tax evasion and embezzlement charges, which he says were politically motivated.

Once Russia's richest man as the chief executive of its most important oil firm, Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in a Siberian prison on tax evasion and embezzlement charges, which he says were politically motivated.

Former Russian oil tycoon and outspoken Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was targeted for arrest in Moscow, says he may apply for political asylum in the United Kingdom.

"Definitely I'm considering asking for asylum in the UK," he said in an interview with the BBC on December 23 after a Moscow court issued an international warrant for his arrest over the 1998 murder of a Siberian mayor.

Khodorkovsky told the BBC that Russian authorities have "gone mad" by seeking to imprison him over false allegations, and "it's obvious now" that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees him as "a serious threat."

"I'm considered by President Putin as a threat, economically, because of the possible seizure of Russian assets abroad, and politically, as someone who will potentially help democratic candidates in the coming 2016 elections," he said.

Russia will hold elections for the lower house of parliament -- the State Duma -- next year. The Duma is currently dominated by Putin supporters.

The Kremlin on December 23 denied any involvement in the arrest warrant, which was issued by Russia's Investigative Committee.

Khodorkovsky said he aimed to "help young political activists in Russia to gain political experience and present an alternative to the existing regime" through his Open Russia pro-democracy organization and other avenues.

While it is "far too optimistic" to speak of regime change in Russia right now, he said, "I'm quite confident that within 10 years the regime will be changed and I hope I will play a significant role in that."

Once Russia's richest man as the chief executive of its most important oil firm, Yukos, Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in a Siberian prison on tax evasion and embezzlement charges, which he says were politically motivated.

Putin pardoned him in 2013 a few months before the Winter Olympics in Sochi and he now lives abroad, mainly in Switzerland.

The BBC asked Khodorkovsky whether he felt in danger, given the murders of prominent Putin opponents in recent years, including former secret agent Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in a London hotel in 2006.

"The history of deaths of opponents of this regime is impressive.... But I was in jail for 10 years, I could have been killed any day easily," Khodorkovsky said. "In London I feel much safer than during those years."

Moscow is accusing Khodorkovsky of ordering several of his employees to kill Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk, as well as a local businessman who survived.

Investigators allege Petukhov was killed in June 1998 because he demanded that Yukos pay taxes that the company had allegedly been avoiding.

Businessman Yevgeny Rybin allegedly was targeted because he "clashed with Yukos's interests," Russia's Investigative Committee charged.

The arrest warrant came one day after armed police raided the Moscow offices of Khodorkovsky's Open Russia movement. The flats of at least seven activists who work for Khodorkovsky also were searched.

After Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, Yukos was broken up and taken over by a state oil firm.

An international arbitration court in The Hague in July ordered Russia to pay Yukos's former shareholders $50 billion in compensation for illegally seizing the company.

With reporting by BBC, Reuters, and AFP
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