Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky applies for Swiss visa

BERLIN – Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has applied for a Swiss visa less than a week after being released from decade-long imprisonment in Russia, officials said Tuesday.

Khodorkovsky submitted the request for a three-month visa at the Swiss Embassy in Berlin, Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Stefan von Below said.

Khodorkovsky’s sons go to school in Switzerland and he has business ties there. But spokesman Christian Hanne denied the Swiss visa request was an indication of where the 50-year-old planned to settle.

“He wants to travel to Switzerland early in the new year to see the place where his sons go to school,” Hanne told The Associated Press. “But there’s no decision yet about a permanent home.”

There has been speculation about Khodorkovsky’s next move since he flew to Berlin on Friday, hours after being pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The German government has given him a one-year visa for Germany.

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.

The Swiss visa he has applied for would allow him to travel freely within the 26-nation Schengen area, which includes Switzerland and much of the European Union, but not Britain.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Stefan von Below said the request will be processed in the coming days, but may take a bit longer than usual because of the holidays.

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.

In his first public appearance since his release, Khodorkovsky indicated that he may have retained some of the vast fortune that once made him Russia’s richest man.

“My financial situation doesn’t require me to work just to earn some more money,” he told reporters in Berlin on Sunday.

Khodorkovsky dismissed suggestions that he might want to return to business, saying instead that he wants to devote his life to helping political prisoners in Russia.

On Tuesday, Khodorkovsky welcomed the release of the remaining two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

In an open letter addressed to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, he described their imprisonment as “living hell” and “unworthy of a European country in the 21st century.”

The band’s third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence shortly after the three were found guilty of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for their protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

“Releasing political prisoners makes those in power at least a little more humane,” Khodorkovsky said in the letter.