Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky has landed in Berlin, a day after his pardon and hours after his release from 10 years in a prison camp. It's not entirely clear why he flew to Germany.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky touched down at Berlin's Schönefeld airport at around 3 p.m. (1400 UTC) on Friday, where he was greeted by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Khodorkovsky issued a statement on his homepage thanking Genscher "for his personal efforts" securing passage to Berlin.
The German foreign ministry confirmed the magnate's arrival, while deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter said that Chancellor Angela Merkel was "delighted" with the tycoon's release.
"My father is free and safe in Germany. Thanks to all of you for the support that you have given my family in recent years!", Khodorkovsky's son, Pavel, wrote on Twitter.
The Free Democrat former minister Genscher said that a German businessman, Ulrich Bettermann, lent out his company plane to fly Khodorkovsky to Germany, just a day after President Vladimir Putin said he would be released from jail. The OBO Bettermann firm provides electrical equipment for the oil and gas industries and has significant operations in Russia.
O Mother where art thou?
His arrival was met with some confusion, however. The Russian FSIN federal prison service first announced that Khodorkovsky would be going to Germany, saying the pardoned oil tycoon was hoping to visit his sick mother in a Berlin hospital.
"Upon his release, Khodorkovsky made a personal request to obtain documents to travel abroad," FSIN wrote on its website. "After his release, he flew to Germany, where his mother is undergoing treatment."
However, Khodorkovsky's cancer-stricken mother subsequently said that while she had spent time in Berlin recently, she was currently in Moscow.
"I don't know why they are announcing that Mikhail has gone to Germany to visit me," Maria Khodorkovskaya told the Itar-Tass news agency, issuing similar statements elsewhere.
Door-to-door in one day
Putin first announced that his former rival would be freed on Thursday evening after his annual press conference. The Russian president signed the pardon early on Friday and Khodorkovsky was freed from a prison camp in the northern Karelia region at midday. Just under 26 hours after first indications of his pardon, Khodorkovsky's arrival in Berlin was confirmed.
The oil tycoon, estimated to be Russia's wealthiest man at the time of his 2003 arrest with a fortune of around $8 billion (about 5.5 billion euros at the time, 5.85 billion today), was serving an 11-year sentence for tax fraud and embezzlement. The 50-year-old had spent just over a decade behind bars.
Germany's new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also welcomed the release as "a piece of good news," before saying he hoped for further progress with Russia on human rights and judicial issues in the coming years.
Earlier in the week, Russia's State Duma parliament passed an unrelated amnesty act affecting thousands of prisoners, including two members of the "Pussy Riot" group jailed for staging an anti-Putin protest in a church when making a music video.
msh/ph (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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