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Interior Affairs

Khodorkovsky - from a Russian prison camp to Berlin

After 10 years in prison, Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky took to Berlin where he met with former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Khodorkovsky is finally able to reunite with his family in Berlin.

The news that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was on his way to Berlin came as a real bombshell. The former billionaire was 40 years old and Russia's richest man when he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax fraud and embezzlement in 2003. His sentence is said to be politically motivated.

After spending a little more than a decade behind Russian bars in the northwestern region of Karelia, the ex-oligarch was surprisingly pardoned by his former rival Putin on Friday (20.12.2013).

And even more surprisingly, Khodorkovsky's very first act of freedom was boarding a flight to Berlin. His arrival in the German capital was met with some confusion.

Breaking news right before Christmas holidays

When the breaking news of Khodorkovsky's trip to Berlin came in, Berlin's politicians had almost left for their Christmas holidays. With its Christmas markets and festively decorated shops, wintery Berlin seemed to invite its citizens for an after-work shopping spree.

Most of the editorial offices were already leanly staffed at this point. They had expected a quiet day at the end of a politically exciting and exhausting week.

And so did the only barely staffed ministries. It's no surprise that the press offices were overwhelmed with all of the journalistic inquiries about Khodorkovsky that suddenly started floating in.


Khodorkovsky boarded a helicopter to fly to Saint Petersburg

Did the prominent Russian prisoner receive a visa for Germany after his release? Or was he planning on applying for asylum in Germany? Was Germany only a stopover on his way to the United States or to Switzerland? Which German city was he heading to and was he traveling alone or with his family?

But these questions remained unanswered. The Interior Ministry referred to the Federal Foreign Office, which didn't even want to confirm that Khodorkovsky was on his way to Germany. The office of the Chancellor didn't comment at all.

Khodorkovsky's mother in Berlin?

Khodorkovsky's parents

Khodorkovsky's mother is severely ill

Then, rumors emerged that Khodorkovsky's mother was being treated for severe cancer in a German hospital and that her son wanted to meet her there.

However, the rumor was quickly shattered. Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina Khodorkovsa, spoke up from a region close to Moscow and said that she is in Russia and has not had any contact with her son since his release.

A new rumor emerged, claiming that both mother and son were on their way to Berlin to meet up in Germany's capital, with Khodorkovsky coming from Saint Petersburg and his mother from Moscow.

Three planes from Russia were listed on the arrival screen at the Berlin Tegel airport - all three were scheduled to arrive almost at the same time. The first camera teams were sent to the airport in Berlin's north. But their attempt to fight the evening rush-hour was all for nothing. In the meantime, it became known that Khodorkovsky was traveling in a private jet and was about to land in Berlin's southern airport Schönefeld.

Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had sent the company plane of German businessman Ulrich Bettermann to pick up Khodorkovsky. Genscher was waiting for Khodorkovsky at the Berlin airport to drive him to the upscale hotel Adlon right at the Brandenburg Gate.

The limousine of former German foreign minister on the road

Former German Foreign Minister Genscher met Khodorkovsky at the airport

Shortly afterwards the first reporter teams arrived at the hotel, among them many Russian journalists, and waited in the freezing winter cold. The hope was that at one point Genscher would inform the public.

Genscher, a former Free Democratic Party (FDP) politician, had informed several news agencies that Khodorkovsky had made it to Berlin. He told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that Khodorkovsky's mother was to travel to Germany on Saturday (21.12.203) in order to finally see her son again for the first time after he spent one fifth of his life in prison.

In his rush to leave Russia, Khodorkovsky had apparently not even heard that his cancer-stricken mother was not in Germany anymore, where she had previously been treated for several months. The reason for Khodorkovsky asking for the presidential pardon in the first place was his mother being diagnosed with cancer again.

Hotel Adlon in Berlin at night

Khodorkovsky spent his first night out of prison in this hotel in Berlin

Waiting for nothing

The journalists waiting in front of the hotel were not in luck. When Genscher finally left the hotel to be interviewed by German public broadcasting station ARD close by, he only confirmed that Khodorkovsky was still in Berlin. Before, it was rumoured that he had already left for Switzerland.

In the meantime, the press office of the government had woken up from their state of shock. Newly appointed German Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier commented on the good news. The Federal Foreign Office had helped Khodorkovsky enter Germany and the former prisoner is allowed to stay in Germany - or continue his travels - for the time being. The chancellor's office said Angela Merkel was happy about the release and was grateful for the efforts of former German Foreign Minister Genscher.

Khodorkovsky published a written statement that his appeal for clemency did not go hand-in-hand with a guilty plea. He thanked his supporters and especially Genscher for his sympathy. Now, he said, the main thing he wants to do is to finally see his family again.