Mikhail Khodorkovsky is an exiled Russian businessman, a former oligarch, and a philanthropist, best known for being mishandled by the Russian government for his anti-communist stance. Mikhail was born and raised in Moscow, Soviet Union, into a middle-class family. His parents were both engineers, and Mikhail led a comfortable life. He scored high grades in school. As a teenager, he developed a great sense of business and aimed at becoming a businessman upon growing up. He was a supporter of communism as a kid, but his political views took a sharp U-turn as he became rich and famous, which is widely touted to be the reason for his enmity with President Putin. He began his career by starting small businesses in Russia and took advantage of the privatization of state assets following the dissolution of Soviet Russia in the mid-1990s. He took control of many oil fields in Siberia and grew as the wealthiest man in the country. In October 2003, he was charged with tax fraud and was imprisoned. He appealed to the ‘European Court of Human Rights’ but received no help. He was subsequently released by Putin in late 2013, following which he settled in Switzerland. Since 2014, he has been working toward a project called ‘Open Russia,’ advocating human rights and fair elections, among other issues.
Childhood & Early Life
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was born Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, on June 26, 1963, in Moscow, Soviet Union, to Boris and Marina Khodorkovsky. His father was Jewish, while his mother was an orthodox Christian. His parents worked as engineers in a factory that made measuring equipments in Moscow.
His parents were well-read and well-educated people who were anti-communists, but they did not let their son know about their political leanings when he was growing up. The family led a comfortable life in a two-room flat in the suburbs of Moscow.
His parents had the opportunity to let their son know about their thoughts on the Soviet Union. They were highly critical of the establishment. However, if they did that, their son would have led a miserable life. Thus, they led their son to be a conformist, which resulted in what they feared the most. Mikhail grew up to become a staunch patriot and a huge supporter of the ideology of communism.
Mikhail performed excellently in school and scored good grades consistently. He also exhibited his interest in politics when he became a leader of the ‘Communist Party’s youth wing, named the ‘Komsomol,’ while he studied at the ‘D. Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia.’ In 1986, he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering.
Ever since he was young, he had no interest in remaining a working-class Russian and had an urge to start his own business. He developed a strong business sense, and following his graduation from the university, he started his first business project.
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Before he ventured into starting a business enterprise, Mikhail had thought about building a career in full-time politics and thus had began working for the ‘Komsomol,’ expecting to gain a respectable position within the party sometime soon.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the communist leader, had begun several programs to help young communists start their own enterprises. Taking advantage of this and collaborating with other members of the ‘Komsomol,’ Mikhail opened his first business venture, which was a private cafe.
The free market was on the rise in Russia, and Mikhail took full advantage of this situation. He also took help from another communist leader, Alexey Golubovich, to further expand his business. Over time, he ventured into diverse businesses, such as computers and finance.
In 1987, Mikhail and partners were gaining huge profits from the import and export of computers, among other products. They founded a hugely successful enterprise named the ‘Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity of the Youth.’ The success of this enterprise led to the creation of ‘Bank Menatep.’
‘Bank Menatep’ came into full existence in 1989, and as one of the few private banks in the country, it thrived fast. Mikhail used the banking facilities from his own bank to fund his business enterprises, which was a shady practice in itself.
His huge support for the ‘Communist Party’ played a big role in him getting away with these minor troubles. The bank also managed to attain the right of managing the funds of the Chernobyl disaster victims. The bank slowly began getting government funds.
It was around that time that Mikhail thought of furthering his ambitions. Through a rigged auction, he acquired the ‘Yukos Oil Company’ for $300 million. He also led many campaigns to raise funds from foreign investors. During the great economic recession of the late 1990s in Russia, Mikhal defaulted on his foreign debts and moved the shares of ‘Yukos’ offshore to save them from creditors.
In 1998, the lowering of the price of oil in the international market resulted in deep trouble for both ‘Yukos’ and Mikhail. By the early 2000s, the prices began surging yet again, and ‘Yukos’s merger with ‘Sibneft’ further helped Mikhail become the wealthiest man in Russia.
Political Involvement & Aftermath
Around the same time, Vladimir Putin took the charge as the pesident of the country. Mikhail could not keep himself away from politics and formed an enterprise called ‘Open Russia’ in 2001. Its main goal was to restore democratic values in Russia. ‘Open Russia’ had its base in London and was co-funded by Henry Kissinger.
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Under the ‘Open Russia’ program, Mikhail trained hundreds of journalists in the art of dissent, opened NGOs to restore human rights and rights in general, and built communities for students and intellectuals to help them discuss issues with each other. He also funded many opposition parties, and at one point, he was also being considered as the political opponent to Putin.
In October 2003, he was arrested for fraud and tax evasion. The trial ran for 2 years, and Mikhail was found guilty of almost all the charges filed against him. He was sentenced to a 9-year-long prison sentence, which was later reduced to an 8-year-long sentence, making him eligible for parole in 2007.
Mikhail moved the ‘European Court of Human Rights.’ Although the court said that Russian Government had been unfair, upon further investigation, it was stated by the court that there were solid reasons to try him.
In 2007, another set of charges was brought against him. This time, too, the international media called the trial politically motivated. In 2010, he was sentenced to 7 additional years in prison.
However, following an appeal, his sentence was reduced by a year, which meant he was to be released from prison in 2016.
Putin finally pardoned him in 2013 and released him. It was said to be done keeping in mind the approaching ‘Winter Olympics.’ He was deemed as a “prisoner of conscience” by ‘Amnesty International.’
He immediately moved to Switzerland and later settled in London. By 2014, his total worth was estimated at $500 million.
Following his release from prison, he re-launched the ‘Open Russia’ program and has been working for it since.
Family & Personal Life
Mikhail Khodorkovsky married Yelena, his college mate, while he was studying chemical engineering in college. They have a son named Pavel.
In 1986, Mikhail met a young student named Inna and married her in 1991, after divorcing his first wife. Mikhail has a daughter and two sons from his second marriage.
However, he has remained on good terms with his first wife. She actively participated in the campaigns to get Mikhail released from prison.