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Pardoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrives in Germany

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has arrived in Germany, after a swift pardon and release from 10 years in a Russian prison camp. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the jailed oil tycoon's pardon earlier in the day.

Russian prison authorities reported on Friday that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had been released from prison only hours prior to the announcement, was being flown to Germany.

"Upon his release, Khodorkovsky made a personal request to obtain documents to travel abroad," the Russian FSIN federal prison service wrote on its website. "After his release, he flew to Germany, where his mother is undergoing treatment."

While speaking at a press conference in Brussels less than an hour before the news was made public, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made no mention of Khodorkovsky's plans to fly to Germany. She simply said that Putin's decision to release the one-time oil tycoon after ten years in prison was a "good message."

The Kremlin announced that Russian President Putin had signed the decree pardoning

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

(pictured) earlier on Friday.

"Guided by humanitarian principles, I decree that Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky ... should be pardoned and freed from any further punishment in the form of imprisonment. This decree comes into force from the day of its signing," the document read.

Shortly after the announcement, Russian news agency Interfax quoted a security source as saying that Khodorkovsky had left the prison colony in the northwestern Russian region of Karelia. His release occurred around noon local time (0800 UTC).

Khodorkovsky's lead lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant later told the Dozhd television channel that the defense had received confirmation from prison officials that Khodorkovsky had left the prison colony in the town of Segezha.

Surprise announcement

Putin had announced his intention to allow the release of the jailed oil tycoon

during his annual question-and-answer session on Thursday with the Russian press.

Khodorkovsky was jailed for tax fraud and embezzlement and had been seen as a potential political rival for Putin. At the time of his arrest, he was Russia's richest man with an estimated wealth of $8 billion (about 5.5 billion euros at the time, 5.85 billion today).

Khodorkovsky, 50, has spent more than 10 years in prison. He was arrested in 2003 and convicted of alleged fraud and tax evasion in 2005.

"It's a serious term," Putin said on Thursday, adding that he would grant the pardon "in the nearest time."

Illness cited

Putin said Khodorkovsky had submitted a formal request on humanitarian grounds because his mother was ill. His mother is receiving treatment in Germany.

The broadsheet newspaper Kommersant said that Russian security service had met Khodorkovsky in recent days and told him the health of his cancer-stricken mother Marina, 79, was worsening. They had also warned him about a possiblility of a third criminal case against him, Kommersant said.

"This conversation, which was conducted without lawyers, forced Mikhail Khodorkovsky to turn to the president," Komersant resported.

kms/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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