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Russian Oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky Walks Free

After 10 years behind bars, Russia's once-richest man and most famous prisoner walked free Friday afternoon after Vladimir Putin announced shock plans to pardon him. Update: Khodorkovsky has left Russia for Germany.

Posted on December 20, 2013, at 3:31 a.m. ET

Jailed former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky walked out of prison on Friday after 10 years behind bars.

Tatyana Makeyeva / Reuters

Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on tax evasion charges widely seen as punishment for challenging Vladimir Putin.

Putin unexpectedly announced on Thursday that he planned to pardon Khodorkovsky. The move is seen as an attempt to sanitize Russia's image ahead of February's Sochi Olympics.

Sergi L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times / MCT

Khodorkovsky was formerly the country’s richest man, and Putin said that as his mother is ill and because he had cited humanitarian issues in his plea to be pardoned, Putin said, “I believe that, taking all these circumstances into account, a corresponding decision can be taken, and a decree pardoning him can be signed in the near future."

The decree, published on the Kremlin's website on Friday, said Putin was pardoning him for humanitarian reasons.

By Friday afternoon, prison officials said Khodorkovsky had left Russia for Germany.

Tatyana Makeyeva / Reuters

Khodorkovsky's spokespeople released this photo of him after landing in Berlin. It is the first image of him in freedom in 10 years.

He released this statement in Russian:

Dear friends,

On Nov. 12, I asked the president of Russia with a request for a pardon for family reasons and am glad for the positive decision.

The question of recognizing guilt was not raised.

I want to thank everyone who for all these years followed the Yukos case and for the support that you gave me, my family and everyone who was unjustly imprisoned and continue to be investigated. I can't wait for the moment when I can hug those close to me and personally shake the hands of all my friends and colleagues."

Translated by Miriam Elder.

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