DUBLIN (AP) — A Dublin judge on Wednesday ordered Irish authorities to unfreeze 100 million euros ($107 million) in cash belonging to an exiled Russian oligarch, ruling that police had provided no evidence that the funds were illegally gained as Russia contends.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man as the founder of the Yukos oil company, welcomed the Irish District Court judgment in a statement from his adopted London home. Russia expressed surprise that the judge failed to keep Khodorkovsky's Irish-banked assets frozen, given his Russian convictions for fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.
Ireland froze the funds in 2011, while Khodorkovsky was still imprisoned in Russia, at the start of an Irish police probe into whether the money had been illegally laundered from Russia via a Gibraltar-based investment company.
Judge Timothy Lucey heard rival arguments last month from lawyers representing Ireland's national police force and Khodorkovsky, who had petitioned for the unfreezing of his money following his 2013 release from prison. Ireland's former justice minister, Michael McDowell, representing the police, said the investigation was continuing and involved recent police trips to Moscow to liaise with fraud investigators there.
But in Wednesday's judgment, Lucey said police had provided no firm evidence of money laundering after five years of investigation and therefore extending the order freezing Khodorkovsky's Irish assets couldn't be legally justified.
Khodorkovsky, who has been granted political asylum in Britain, said the ruling vindicated his position that President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated a campaign to vilify him after he founded a pressure group, Open Russia, committed to promoting democracy in Russia.
"Lies about 'money laundering' remained lies," Khodorkovsky said in a post on his Twitter account.
His press office said Khodorkovsky intends to plow some of his freed funds into Open Russia, which Russian authorities closed down in 2006 but was relaunched overseas following Khodorkovsky's December 2013 release from prison.
In Moscow, the lead lawyer investigating unresolved allegations against former Yukos executives accused Ireland of offering encouragement to corporate thieves on the run from Russian justice.
"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," Andrei Kondakov said in a statement.
Kondakov said the Irish court had refused to provide Russia a chance to present evidence directly against Khodorkovsky that was "extensive and would have shown the money is the proceeds of crime."
Associated Press reporter Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this story.