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Russian court orders release of former Khodorkovsky aide

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian, CNN
January 23, 2014 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Platon Lebedev, right, arrives in a courtroom in Moscow in 2011.
Platon Lebedev, right, arrives in a courtroom in Moscow in 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Defense team says will "use every legal mechanism" to see tax claim dropped
  • Platon Lebedev has sentence reduced
  • Lebedev is latest high-profile prisoner to be freed in Russia
  • Ruling comes after Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released in December

(CNN) -- The former business partner of Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky will be released early from prison under a ruling by Russia's Supreme Court that reduced his sentence, state media reported Thursday.

Platon Lebedev is the latest high-profile prisoner to be freed in Russia as the country prepares to host next month's Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Lebedev was convicted of tax evasion in 2005 and embezzlement and money laundering in 2010, state news agency Ria Novosti said.

It quoted his lawyer as saying he could be released later on Thursday.

Khodorkovsky: I don't know why I'm free

But the court said Lebedev and Khodorkovsky remain liable for 17 billion rubles ($500 million) in unpaid tax bills owed by the now-defuct Yukos oil company, Ria Novosti reported.

Former oil tycoon Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released from a Russian prison in December after spending 10 years in jail following a fraud and tax evasion conviction.

The tax debt is an obstacle to his return to Russia, after leaving for Germany and then Switzerland following his release.

Lebedev and Khodorkovsky's legal team expressed dismay that the tax claim, which it called "absurd," had not been revoked. It said it would "use every legal mechanism" to see it dropped.

"The existence of the claim deprives (Khodorkovsky) from an opportunity to come back to Russia, because as long as the claim stands, the 'iron curtain' can drop in front of him any time. And he cannot afford the luxury of losing his freedom of movement because of his health, family situation and strategic life plans," the team said in a statement.

"Some of the associates and former Yukos employees, who got caught in the wheels of criminal repressions, still remain in jail. And we will do everything it takes to have those unjustly convicted released as soon as possible, and to have all the unjust verdicts overturned," it added.

A new amnesty law introduced by President Vladimir Putin late last year also allowed two members of protest punk rock group Pussy Riot to leave prison two months before the end of their two-year sentences for a performance critical of Putin.

READ: Opinion: Don't be fooled by Putin's release of Khodorkovsky

CNN's Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report

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