Moscow, 21 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Aleksandr Pleshkov, the head of the Siberian corrections administration, on 20 October confirmed rumors that Khodorkovskii had arrived in a Siberian prison camp.
Pleshkov's announcement ended intense speculation about Khodorkovskii's whereabouts since he was removed from his remand jail in Moscow more than a week ago.
The 42-year-old founder of the Yukos oil firm, once Russia's richest man, will serve his sentence in Chita Oblast, in eastern Siberia. The camp lies near the Chinese border, some 5,000 kilometers from his native Moscow.
In order to visit him, his relatives and lawyers will now have to take a six-hour flight from the Russian capital, followed by a seven-hour car ride.
Pleshkov described the prison as "a normal camp with normal conditions" and said it held no dangerous criminals.
But this has done little to assuage Khodorkovskii's defense lawyers and human rights activists, who accuse the authorities of trying to isolate him and break him psychologically.
Khodorkovskii was convicted in May on charges of fraud and tax evasion in what many regard as a Kremlin-led campaign to crush a charismatic political opponent and regain control of Russia's strategic oil resources.
He exhausted his appeals in September.
Lev Ponomarev is the director of the All-Russian Movement For Human Rights. He says sending Khodorkovskii to Siberia is a violation of Russian law, which stipulates that inmates must serve their sentences close to their homes.
His transfer to a remote prison, Ponomarev told RFE/RL, is the latest move in the Kremlin's bid to punish him for his political ambitions.
"It's revenge on the part of the authorities, of the Kremlin, and of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally," Ponomarev said. "It violates Russian law because relatives cannot visit them [Khodorkovskii and fellow defendant Platon Lebedev]. Our country is headed by small-minded, vindictive people. Mere revenge -- that's the only motive."
The Khodorkovskii case has raised serious concern in the West about Putin's commitment to democratic values.
Ponomarev says he hopes Western countries will not balk at denouncing Khodorkovskii's transfer to a Siberian prison.
"It's revenge on the part of the authorities, of the Kremlin, and of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally," activist Lev Ponomarev said. "It violates Russian law because relatives cannot visit them [Khodorkovskii and fellow defendant Platon Lebedev]. Our country is headed by small-minded, vindictive people. Mere revenge -- that's the only motive."
"I think leaders of Western countries have a duty to react to this," he said. "I am very much hoping that the Western world will react to this, will force our leaders to adhere to their own laws in this particular case."
Anton Drel, one of Khodorkovskii's defense team, said his client has already consulted a local attorney.
"A lawyer called from the city of Krasnokamesnk in the Chita region and informed us that he had met with Mikhail Khodorkovskii, that the quarantine was over," Drel said. "I think his Moscow lawyers will be able to visit him in the course of next week."
Khodorkovskii has another six years to serve, having already spent two years in a Moscow pretrial detention center.
The camp where he is due to serve his term is reported to have a population of about 1,000 inmates, most of them convicted of fraud or theft.
When the prison opened in the 1960s, inmates initially helped build a large uranium-processing plant. Today, the camp manufactures only textiles, but the region remains heavily contaminated with radioactive waste.
Lebedev, Khodorkovskii's associate who has been handed an identical sentence, has ended up in a prison in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, beyond the Arctic circle.