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Khodorkovsky flies to Germany in wake of surprise Putin pardon

MOSCOW -- Russia's most famous prisoner and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Friday walked out of jail after more than 10 years behind bars, immediately flying to Germany following his surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin.

The former oil tycoon was quietly escorted out of his prison in northwestern Russia in a low-key operation, depriving journalists of any image of the former convict leaving his remote penal colony.

In a dizzying succession of events, several hours later Khodorkovsky flew to Germany, the prison service said, with the RAPSI legal 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, saying he had requested permission to travel abroad.

Khodorkovsky's ailing mother Marina, 79, has been undergoing treatment in Germany, but her current whereabouts are unclear. A source told AFP 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,” said the decree signed by Putin on Friday.

Less than three hours after the publication of the decree, his lawyers confirmed that Khodorkovsky, 50, had left his prison colony in the town of Segezha in the Karelia region.

'Unprecedented in Russian history'

The release drew the curtain on the highest profile criminal case in post-Soviet Russia which has harmed the country's investment climate and become a symbol for the selective persecution of Kremlin foes under Putin.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky, left, looks from behind glass at a court room in Moscow, Russia in this Dec. 30, 2010 file photo. (AP)

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