Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled to free former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s business partner, Platon Lebedev, three months early, but refused to quash a huge tax penalty that effectively dooms the two men to exile.

The apex court on Thursday ordered Mr Lebedev’s term to be reduced to that already served.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin pardoned Mr Khodorkovsky last month, but Mr Lebedev did not seek a pardon. Their release is seen as an effort to blunt Western criticism of the Kremlin’s record on human rights ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.

Mr Khodorkovsky was to be released in August and Mr Lebedev in May, after serving more than 10 years in prison. They were both jailed for fraud and tax evasion, but their conviction was largely construed as Mr Putin’s warning to Russian oligarchs to stay out of politics.

The court declined to lift a 17.5-billion rouble ($513 million) tax penalty against Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev in contravention of a last year ruling by the European Court, which saw no basis for the fine.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who was put on a plane to Germany after release, said he would not return to Russia till the tax penalty was struck down, because he could be banned from travelling abroad again.

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