Khodorkovsky applies for Swiss visa, Greenpeace activists released

Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks to the media after his release from a Russian prison Sunday in Berlin.

Story highlights

  • Russian supreme court reportedly orders review of his past cases
  • A spokesman for Khodorkovsky says he has no long-term plans to settle in Switzerland
  • Greenpeace International says 30 of its activists will leave Russia soon
  • Moves are seen as part of a public relations offensive with Olympics coming up
Former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky has applied for a Swiss visa, less than a week after his pardon and release from a Russian prison, authorities said Wednesday.
Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Stefan von Below confirmed to CNN that Khodorkovsky -- who had been jailed since 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and fraud -- submitted a request for a three-month Schengen visa at the Swiss Embassy in Berlin on Christmas Eve. Von Below said Khodorkovsky's application most likely would be processed in the next couple of days.
Schengen visas entitle citizens of the European Union the right to travel, work and live in any EU country without special formalities and enable their holders to move through participating countries without being subjected to border checks.
Pavel Khodorkovsky said his father applied for a regular visa and there was no discussion of asylum for now.
A spokesman for Khodorkovsky, Christian Hanne, told CNN the former oil tycoon's application for a Swiss visa did not mean he has made long-term plans to settle in Switzerland. Hanne said Khodorkovsky's twin sons attend school in Switzerland and their father hoped to see where they go to school.
Russian courts will take a second look at cases against Khodorkovsky, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.
The Supreme Court ordered the review Wednesday, citing the European Court of Human Rights criticism of the tax evasion and fraud case in July.
It was not immediately clear what this meant legally for Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man.
The latest developments in the Khodorkovsky case, which observers said harmed foreign investment because it smacked of political repression, come less than two months before the world focuses on Russia for the Sochi Olympics.
At a time when Russia's international image has suffered from an anti-gay law that led to threats of protests and boycotts at the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been dispensing "get out of jail free" cards.
Observers said the moves are part of a public relations offensive by Putin, who has solidified his political dominance in Russia and now seeks to improve the country's image ahead of the Olympic Games, which begin February 7 in the Black Sea city of Sochi.
On Monday, Putin introduced a new amnesty law allowing two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot to leave prison, two months before the end of their two-year sentences for a performance critical of the president. In addition, 30 Greenpeace demonstrators are to go free under the amnesty law passed by Russian lawmakers last week that could affect 25,000 prisoners.
Greenpeace International reported on its website Wednesday that the 30 activists known as the Arctic 30 were scheduled to meet with the Russian government body prosecuting them and that the "case against them is being dropped en masse."
"They will then have one more hurdle -- securing exit visas in their passports -- before the non-Russians are free to leave the country and be reunited with their families," Greenpeace said on its website. "A meeting with the Federal Migration Service is scheduled for later today. The Arctic 30 are expected to leave Russia in the coming days."
RIA Novosti reported Wednesday that the government had begun dropping cases against the Greenpeace activists who were arrested for a September protest at a Russian Arctic oil rig. In St. Petersburg, officials had formally dismissed charges against at least 16 of the activists. All 30 were expected to be cleared by the end of the day.
"Amnesty signed. Moonwalked out of the office of the Head of Investigative Committee," Greenpeace activist and Dutch citizen Faiza Oulahsen tweeted after receiving her pardon. "Had to show off the dance moves I practiced in prison."
The so-called Arctic 30, charged initially with piracy but later with hooliganism, were released on bail in November after spending more than two months behind bars for protesting oil drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic region, RIA Novosti reported.
But Russia's treatment of Khodorkovsky drew worldwide attention and criticism, with countries like the United States accusing it of "selective prosecution" and abuse of the legal system.
He became both a political and economic threat to Putin by wanting to create a commercial oil pipeline that would break the government monopoly on the industry and by funding opposition politicians, according to observers.
Khodorkovsky, who was due for release next year, wrote Putin a letter from prison that asked for early release because his mother was ailing. He insisted the letter contained no admission of guilt, and Putin said the pardon was on humanitarian grounds.
Upon his release, Khodorkovsky left the country. He has said he won't continue his political activities against the Russian government.