Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Democracy Activist

Image source: Митя Алешковский (Mitya Aleshkovskiy)

Image license: CC BY-SA 3.0

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Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky (Russian: Михаи́л Бори́сович Ходорко́вский, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈiɫ xədɐrˈkofskʲɪj]; born 26 June 1963) is an exiled Russian businessman, philanthropist and former oligarch, now residing in London. In 2003, Khodorkovsky was believed to be the wealthiest man in Russia, with a fortune estimated to be worth $15 billion, and was ranked 16th on Forbes list of billionaires. He had worked his way up the Komsomol apparatus, during the Soviet years, and started several businesses during the period of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1990s, he accumulated considerable wealth by obtaining control of a number of Siberian oil fields unified under the name Yukos, one of the major companies to emerge from the privatization of state assets during the 1990s (a scheme known as “Loans for Shares”).
In October 2003, he was arrested by Russian authorities and charged with fraud. The government under Russian president Vladimir Putin then froze shares of Yukos shortly thereafter on tax charges. Putin’s government took further actions against Yukos, leading to a collapse of the company’s share price and the evaporation of much of Khodorkovsky’s wealth. In May 2005, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. In December 2010, while he was still serving his sentence, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were further charged with and found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering; Khodorkovsky’s prison sentence was extended to 2014. After Hans-Dietrich Genscher lobbied for his release, President Vladimir Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky, releasing him from jail on 20 December 2013.There was widespread concern internationally that the trials and sentencing were politically motivated. The trial was criticized abroad for the lack of due process. Khodorkovsky lodged several applications with the European Court of Human Rights, seeking redress for alleged violations by Russia of his human rights. In response to his first application, which concerned events from 2003 to 2005, the court found that several violations were committed by the Russian authorities in their treatment of Khodorkovsky. Despite these findings, the court ultimately ruled that the trial was not politically motivated, but rather “that the charges against him were grounded in ‘reasonable suspicion'”. He was considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.Upon being pardoned by Putin and released from prison at the end of 2013, Khodorkovsky immediately left Russia and was granted residency in Switzerland. At the end of 2013, his personal estate was believed to be worth, as a rough estimate, $100–250 million. At the end of 2014, he was said to be worth about $500 million. In 2015, he moved to London. In December 2016, a court unfroze $100m of Khodorkovsky’s assets that had been held in Ireland.In 2014, Khodorkovsky re-launched Open Russia to promote several reforms to Russian civil society, including free and fair elections, political education, protection of journalists and activists, endorsing the rule of law, and ensuring media independence. He has been described by The Economist as “the Kremlin’s leading critic-in-exile”.


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