Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon and political opponent of Vladimir Putin, has been released from prison after being pardoned by the Russian President.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who has spent the last 10 years in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion, left a prison colony in Russia’s northwest near the Arctic Circle, on Friday morning, within an hour after the Kremlin published Mr. Putin’s decree pardoning the 50-year-old businessman on “humanitarian” grounds.

Mr. Putin said Mr. Khodorkovsky had cited his mother’s worsening illness when asking for clemency.

Russia’s richest man and owner of the country’s largest oil company was arrested in October 2003 and sentenced to eight years in prison. His company, Yukos, was dismantled and taken over by the state. In 2010 Mr. Khodorkovsky was tried again on charges of embezzlement and slapped with another prison term that would have kept him behind bars till August 2014.

Mr. Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment was widely seen as political vendetta for financing opposition parties and harbouring political ambitions. While his first trial served to discourage other Russian oligarchs from meddling into politics, the second trial was apparently designed to keep him in jail beyond 2012, when Mr. Putin reclaimed presidency after serving four years as Prime Minister.

Experts said Mr. Putin, who had earlier refused to show clemency for Mr. Khodorkovsky, decided now to pardon him in order to ease criticism of the Kremlin’s record on human rights ahead of the Winter Olympics in the Russian seaside resort of Sochi next February. Several Western leaders, including the Presidents of France and Germany, have decided to boycott the Games in protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Two women from the Pussy Riot punk group, jailed over an anti-Putin protest in a church, and 30 Greenpeace activists detained for a protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic, are also due to be set free under an amnesty approved by the Russian Parliament.

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