Khodorkovsky says cannot currently return to Russia

MOSCOW - Russia's freed former tycoon and richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Sunday said he was currently unable to return to Russia due to a court order to pay over half a billion dollars dating back to his first conviction in 2005.

Khodorkovsky said that the court order for him to pay US$550 million in damages was still in place. If he went back to Russia, "Russian law has the power of not allowing me to leave for abroad," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Berlin.

He said the case is currently in the hands of Russia's Supreme Court and if the claim was ever lifted he would consider that a "sufficient sign that I can come to Russia".

"The issue of politics - understanding politics as a fight for power - is also not the agenda for me," he added.

Khodorkovsky had said earlier in an interview with the New Times weekly that he believed the Russian authorities wanted him to stay out of the country.

"Our authorities can honestly say that they did not send me into exile and that I asked for it," he said.

"But knowing our realities, we can absolutely precisely understand that they wanted me out of the country," he told the weekly in an interview published on Sunday.

He acknowledged his lightning-quick exit Friday that came after more than 10 years in prison, and was negotiated by former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, was stage-managed.

"If someone wanted to make a movie about the 1970s and the deportation of a dissident you could not have done it better," he told the magazine for which he wrote a column from prison.

He indicated in the New Times interview that it was Putin who wanted him out.

"Over the past 10 years I have learnt perfectly well to understand who has what powers and who takes decisions. One person takes decisions concerning me. All these 10 years. One person."

He said he had pledged to stay out of politics when he wrote his request for a pardon.

"I wrote in my papers what I have repeatedly said publicly: I am not going into politics and not going to fight for the return of (his former oil firm) Yukos assets," Khodorkovsky said.

He denied that he had come under pressure from Russia's security services to turn to Putin for a pardon.

"None of this has happened. Because Vladimir Vladimirovich and me have known each other for too long. And we do not have to say extra words to receive an answer which can been discerned and understood in advance."

Khodorkovsky said he had been prepared to sign any document as long as he did not have to admit guilt. "This time I was told: you do not have to write an admission of guilt," he said, describing the circumstances of his release.

"But if I had to put people on the line I would have remained in prison. If in this situation I wrote an admission of guilt, then my mom would not have let me come home."