Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he plans to pardon jailed former oligarch and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Following a news conference on December 19, Putin told reporters that Khodorkovsky recently "wrote to me asking for pardon. He has already spent over 10 years in confinement. This is a serious punishment."
Putin added that Khodorkovsky said his mother was ill. "Considering all those circumstances, I believe it is possible to make a relevant decision and a [presidential] pardon decree for him will be signed in the nearest future," he said.
Khodorkovsky's lawyers denied the former head of the now dismantled Yukos oil company had asked for a pardon. Attorney Karina Moskalenko said, "I haven't heard anything about him requesting a pardon."
His legal team, however, later on December 19 said they would make no more statements before having met with Khodorkovsky, who is currently in a prison colony in the northwestern region of Karelia.
As the head of Yukos oil and valued at $15 billion, Khodorkovsky was once Russia's richest man. He benefitted from the country's privatization of state assets in the 1990s.
In October 2003 Khodorkovsky was arrested and later convicted of tax evasion. He and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were sentenced to eight years in prison. Khodorkovsky had refused to heed warnings from President Vladimir Putin that oligarchs were to avoid politics, and his imprisonment was widely viewed as politically motivated.
In 2010, just a year before he was scheduled to be released, Khodorkovsky was convicted and sentenced to a second prison term for money laundering and embezzlement. He is set to be released in August 2014.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said that there was "a letter with his [Khodorkovsky's] signature" requesting a pardon.
Putin said during his news conference that there would be no third case brought against Khodorkovsky's former company Yukos but did not make mention, during the lengthy news conference, of any pardon for Khodorkovsky or his jailed partner, Platon Lebedev.
Khodorkovsky's lawyers have said requesting a pardon from Putin would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.
Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the State Duma Committee on Legislation, said that according to the Russian Constitution, it was not necessary to admit guilt in order to file a petition for a pardon.
Khodorkovsky continues to maintain his innocence. Critics say his conviction and imprisonment were politically motivated.
Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, shortly after becoming active in Russian politics, and convicted of tax evasion in 2005. He was convicted of embezzlement at a second trial in 2010.
Khodorkovsky's prison term is due to expire in August 2014.
With reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax