The Supreme Court of Russia [official website, in Russian] on Thursday upheld the tax claim keeping former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] in exile and released his business partner Platon Lebedev [JURIST news archive]. Lebedev's release came four months early, with the remainder of his sentence considered time served. Khodorkovsky was released from prison following a pardon [JURIST report] in December from Russian President Vladimir Putin [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Despite the pardon, he remains liable [Bloomberg report] for 17.5 billion rubles ($514 million) in tax claims against his company, Yukos Oil Co. The oil tycoon, who left for Berlin following his pardon, has said that he will not return to Russia [AP report] unless the charges are dropped for fear that they will be used to keep him from leaving the country again. Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev spent more than 10 years in prison.
In August the Supreme Court of Russia reduced Khodorkovsky's prison sentence by two months [JURIST report]. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were each serving prison sentences for fraud, theft and money laundering. In 2010 former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified that Putin had ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of Khodorkovsky for political reasons. Kasyanov stated that Putin indicated that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party without approval from the president, prompting his arrest. In late 2012 the Human Rights Ombudsman [backgrounder] in Russia, Vladimir Lukin [official profile], filed an appeal [JURIST report] in a Moscow court following the ruling against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, because the two men were ordered to pay restitution for the same losses twice, once in 2005 and once in 2010. In the same month, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had their sentences commuted [JURIST report] by the Moscow City Court from 13 years to 11 years, making both men eligible for release in 2014.