Freed Russian ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on private visit to Israel

JERUSALEM – Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in Israel for a short visit three weeks after he was released from prison by Russian President Vladimir Putin, his business partner said Friday.

Leonid Nevzlin told Israeli television station Channel 2 that Khodorkovsky has been in the country since Wednesday.

“He is here on a private visit to meet me, he is my best friend,” he told the broadcaster. He did not elaborate.

Khodorkovsky’s Germany-based spokesman Christian Hanne confirmed the visit but would give no further details except to say it would be short.

Nevzlin has been in Israel since Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on money laundering and tax evasion charges that many in the West consider trumped-up. Two other former shareholders, Vladimir Dubov and Mikhail Brudno, are also in Israel where they fled to avoid arrest.

Khodorkovsky had travelled to Switzerland last Sunday. He was pardoned by Putin and flown to Berlin on Dec. 20 after spending more than a decade in prison.

Khodorkovsky has business ties to Switzerland stretching back to his days as head of the Yukos oil company. When Khodorkovsky was prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering, Russian officials sought to seize about $5 billion linked to Yukos that had been deposited in Switzerland.

But Swiss authorities refused to hand over the money after concluding that the prosecution of Khodorkovsky was politically motivated. It’s unclear how much of the money belonged directly to Khodorkovsky, and whether he already has access to it.

Russia’s pardon of Khodorkovsky, the remaining members of punk band Pussy Riot and the expected release of 30 Greenpeace activists detained since September are seen as the Kremlin’s attempts to soothe criticism of the country’s human rights record before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.