The former oil tycoon was escorted out of his cell in a low-key operation
Several hours later, Khodorkovsky flew to Germany, with the Rapsi news agency saying he was on his way to Berlin. “After his release he flew to Germany where his mother is undergoing treatment,” the prison service said in a statement, adding that he had requested permission to travel abroad.
Khodorkovsky’s ailing mother, Marina, 79, has been undergoing treatment in Germany. A source said his wife Inna is currently in Switzerland.
Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, a day after stunning the country on Thursday by saying he asked for clemency on humanitarian grounds as his mother was ill.
“Guided by humanitarian principles, I decree that Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky... should be pardoned and freed from any further punishment in the form of imprisonment,” stated the decree signed by Putin.
Less than three hours after the publication of the decree, his lawyers confirmed Khodorkovsky, 50, had left his prison colony in the town of Segezha in the Karelia region.
The release drew the curtain on the highest profile criminal case in post-Soviet Russia.
By accident or design, the release has coincided with a major amnesty for prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes that is expected to see the Pussy Riot punk rockers freed in the next days.
Thirty foreign and Russian Greenpeace activists, arrested on hooliganism charges after their protest against Arctic oil drilling are also expected to escape prosecution.
What role Khodorkovsky will play in Russia after his release is unclear, but it appears certain that Putin would never have allowed his freedom if he was seen as a threat.
Supporters have said that Khodorkovsky had been thrown into jail and found guilty in two separate trials for daring to finance opposition to Putin. He was snatched off his corporate plane in 2003 soon after Putin warned oligarchs against meddling in politics. He has been held in detention ever since. He and his business partner Platon Lebedev were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005.