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Tycoon to devote life to prisoners

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who crossed President Vladimir Putin and ended up in jail for a decade, says he plans to devote his life to securing the freedom of the country's political prisoners.

At a packed news conference just two days after his surprise release from a Russian jail, Khodorkovsky said Sunday that he wants to pay back all those who had worked so hard for his own release. But he dismissed any suggestion that he might take a leading role in Russian politics, a move that would have catapulted him from being Russia's most prominent political prisoner to being Putin's main sparring partner.

"The time that is left for me is time I would like to devote to the activity of paying back my debts to the people ... and by that I mean the people who are still in prison," the 50-year-old former oil tycoon said, naming several business associates who remain behind bars in Russia.

Khodorkovsky's appearance Sunday at a turbulent news conference before hundreds of journalists near Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie was charged with symbolism. The location was one of the main crossing points from East Berlin to West Berlin during the Cold War.

Calm and composed in a dark blue suit, with only his shaved head betraying his recent incarceration, Khodorkovsky said his release shouldn't be mistaken as a sign that there are no more political prisoners in Russia.

"The most important thing for a prison inmate is hope," he said, speaking in Russian.

It's not clear when, if ever, Khodorkovsky would return to Russia. Hinting that he may have retained some of his vast fortune, Khodorkovsky also ruled out reviving the business career that once made him Russia's richest man.

During his 10-year imprisonment, Khodorkovsky transformed his image in the eyes of many from that of a ruthless oligarch into a prominent voice of dissent in Russia. He bolstered that aura with thoughtful editorials — written by hand, since no computers were allowed him in prison.

It is unclear how he intends to use what remains of the $15 billion fortune he is reported once to have amassed.

A return to Russia isn't imminent because of the possibility that he could be charged again, Khodorkovsky told journalists.

"At the moment, if I were to go back to Russia, I may not be allowed to leave the country again," he said.

Khodorkovsky said he opposed any boycott of the 2014 Winter Games.

"It's a celebration of sport, something which millions of people will celebrate," he said. "Obviously, it should not become a great party for President Putin."

___

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press
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