Khodorkovsky Offers to Stay Out of Business

MTKhodorkovsky smiling from a courtroom cage during his parole hearing Thursday at Chita's Ingodinsky District Court.
CHITA — Jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky told his parole hearing Thursday that if freed he would quit the oil business for good, and devote his life instead to humanitarian work and his family.

Dressed in jeans and a light brown jacket, the 45-year-old former Yukos chief smiled as he was led into the stuffy courtroom in Chita, 6,000 kilometers east of Moscow, for the first day of the hearing.

Looking relaxed and confident, he argued that, since all his wealth had been taken away from him, the authorities had no need to keep him any longer in jail, where he has served nearly five years of an eight-year sentence on tax and fraud charges.

"I'm not going to return to the oil and gas business or seek a review of the unjust decisions concerning Yukos after being set free," Khodorkovsky said in a short speech to the Ingodinsky District Court, glancing at written notes occasionally. "I will devote myself to humanitarian projects and, most importantly, my family."

Khodorkovsky's statement echoed one he made before his arrest in October 2003, when he said he planned to leave business by the age of 45. At the time, his comments were widely taken as a sign that he harbored political ambitions.

"Yukos, the company I created, [was worth] $40 billion. Today nothing belongs to me. … One can't take anything else from me, no matter how many years one keeps me behind bars," Khodorkovsky told the court. "I am not ashamed of my work. … I have managed to do a lot, and I hope that I will manage to do more."

Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina Khodorkovskaya, looked directly at her son in the small, packed courtroom, as he smiled mildly and looked down.

During the lunch recess, Khodorkovskaya said she expected her son to earn his fortune back, as he needed the financial resources to implement the humanitarian projects he had spoken of.

"He doesn't talk about his ideas as he doesn't want them to be stolen," she said, smiling enigmatically.

Even if granted parole, Khodorkovsky will not go free as he faces a new trial with his business partner Platon Lebedev on charges of embezzlement and money laundering that could add 22 1/2 years to his sentence.

Judge Igor Falileyev listened impassively to Khodorkovsky's statement but said testimony from the administration at the Chita jail where he is being held showed that he had "not repented" his crimes. Reading from testimony by prison officials in Krasnokamensk, where Khodorkovsky was held until December 2006, Falileyev also said officials there considered that Khodorkovsky "hasn't been rehabilitated as he hasn't admitted his guilt, and that is why he has to serve the full sentence."

In the 4 1/2 hours of the hearing, Falileyev read from some documents haltingly, appearing to have difficulty in reading or understanding the text.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers, Vadim Klyuvgant and Natalya Terekhova, ridiculed the Federal Prison Service's case, arguing that the rule violations being cited to deny parole were trumped-up and petty.

Klyuvgant described the penalties as "endless trivialities, falsifications, cruel and unjust punishment — seven days in a punishment cell for drinking a glass of tea though everybody drinks it, 10 days there for a lemon and two apples given as a gift by his cell mates."

Prison service lawyers said officials would present videotape evidence showing that Khodorkovsky in October 2007 had violated prison rules by disobeying an order to walk from an exercise yard to his cell with his hands behind his back and was thus ineligible for parole.

The prison service's lawyers said Thursday that Khodorkovsky had received two new penalties Monday that could harm his case for parole. Khodorkovsky denied committing the violations, saying the prison administration had falsely claimed that he had refused to tell a prison administration official how many men were in his cell and had failed to keep a water tank clean.

After Khodorkovsky's denial, the prison service's lawyers agreed to disregard the latest alleged rule violations.

Since his detention in 2003, prison officials have found Khodorkovsky guilty of six minor rule violations. He has served out punishments for five of them.

In the October 2007 incident, he was walking with then-cell mate Igor Gnezdilov, a car thief who was set free on parole early this year.

In court Thursday, Gnezdilov said there had been no verbal order from the guards that morning and accused prison officials of pressuring him to write statements against Khodorkovsky. "They made me write two claims: one saying I had seen Khodorkovsky holding his hands free … and another saying I hadn't seen where he held his hands," Gnezdilov said. "They hinted my parole depended on what I wrote, so I agreed to write [he] had not obeyed the order."

Klyuvgant said the testimony of several prison officials differed as to the time and place of the alleged incident. "Its ridiculous," he said.

Gnezdilov said he felt sorry for what he had done. "I had my little son waiting for me to get out of jail," said Gnezdilov, who has spent 19 years in jail. "Mikhail Borisovich changed my life a lot. Thanks to him I don't want to steal cars any more — I want a have a normal family and a normal job."

Outside the courtroom, Gnezdilov said he understood the charges against Khodorkovsky were politically motivated, but that he was not afraid of repercussions. "I respect Khodorkovsky, he is a very strong man," Gnezdilov said. "They wanted to break him, but they haven't managed to."

Khodorkovsky's lawyers cited a July 31 statement by prison officials that showed his good character. Khodorkovsky was "not noticed taking spirits or drugs … calm, balanced, polite and friendly … with adequate self-esteem, open to the opinion of the others, neat … healthy," the statement said.

Khodorkovskaya said she was pinning her hopes on President Dmitry Medvedev to allow her son to go free.

He "has spent too little time in power to judge what kind of president he is," Khodorkovskaya said. "I think he's having a hard time now."