A court in Dublin has ordered the Irish government to release €100 million belonging to Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In a move that ruffled feathers in Moscow, Judge Timothy Lucey ruled that Irish authorities had produced no evidence to support claims made by Russia that the money had been illegally obtained.
The decision was a significant victory in Khodorkovsky’s battle to regain control of billions of dollars seized from him around the world after he was controversially jailed for fraud, money laundering and tax evasion in 2003.
Khodorkovsky, who was freed from jail in 2013 after receiving a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin, claims the charges laid against him were politically-motivated and part of a campaign to vilify him after he became critical of the Kremlin.
Responding to the judgement from his home in London, where he has claimed political asylum, Khodorkovsky welcomed the decision, taking to Twitter to tell his followers that suggestions the money was laundered were always a lie designed to smear his reputation.
Representing Irish police at Dublin’s District Court on Wednesday, Michael McDowell said detectives were still investigating claims the money had been illegally laundered from Russia via a Gibraltar-based investment firm, and that officers had recently visited Moscow to liaise with fraud investigators there.
Responding to a request from police to extend the freezing order on Khodorkovsky’s assets, Judge Lucey said: “People have been murdered and it has been politically motivated. So we should be very careful about what we say about people and what we put into any application as an add-on to boost our side. We are dealing with people’s lives.”
The funds were frozen while Khodorkovsky was still in a Russian jail. Celebrating the return of his assets, he said he would use some of the money to support Open Russia, a movement he founded which is dedicated to promoting democracy in Russia.
Once the country’s richest man and founder of the Yukos oil company, Khodorkovsky relaunched the movement overseas on his release from prison after authorities in Russia shut it down in 2006. He is currently being investigated in his home country on suspicion of ordering a contract killing.
Khodorkovsky claims he became a target of the Russian government after he made allegations of corruption against the Kremlin and provided funds to opposition parties after Putin rose to power in 2000.
“Today’s decision to release the funds will encourage others to do what Mr Khodorkovsky did: conceal their stolen assets beneath multiple layers of shell companies and offshore trusts for many years,” a Kremlin spokesman said in a statement, complaining that Russia had not been given the opportunity to present evidence it claims proves Khodorkovsky’s Irish assets were the proceeds of crime.