In October 2003, Russian security agents' seized the country's richest man at gun point on the tarmac of a Siberian airport. ''Weapons on the floor or we'll shoot!'' the agents shouted. Then the man was dragged away to spend years in solitary confinement at a Soviet-era labor camp in the Chita region of eastern Siberia. His assets were seized by the state; his opulence was wiped out and his family left almost fractured.
Seven years later, he walked into the court room, with a tender smile on his face. From inside the glass cage, he waved to his supporters and posed for pictures. Even as the judge read out the verdict, he kept himself busy looking through some handwritten papers. Outside the court, protestors gathered to rally in support of the man. But the police were rather quick to disperse them off.
Oil baron Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, when arrested was just aged 40, yet ranked amongst the top 20 wealthiest people in the world. Born on June 26, 1963, he went on to study at Moscow's prestigious Mendeleyev Chemistry Institute. Khodorkovsky, in 1989, founded the country's first private banks, Menatep.
With the fall of Soviet Union in 1991, Khodorkovsky acquired state assets cheaply. Businesses that were under the government control in the USSR flourished during the privatization-era under former President Boris N. Yeltsin. At a state auction in 1995, Khodorkovsky bought Yukos Oil Company at a mere $350mn. Then known as the super rich Russian oligarch, he controlled almost three per cent of the world's oil production.
Yukos in due course, was estimated to be worth $40 billion at its peak. In 2003, it completed a merger with Sibneft, a smaller firm to become the world's fourth largest oil producer. Khodorkovsky maintained that the group was in talks with an international oil conglomerate to sell away a major part of its shares. The oligarch had also begun financing political parties and critics straight away alleged that he was trying to influence authorities in Moscow for the state's oil deals.
But when the Putin tide swept the corridors of Kremlin, he also became the first of the oligarchs to be jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion against him. Vladimir Putin ideals or say 'Putinism' never agreed to the existence of oligarchs like in the Soviet-era. The government under him announced a furtive war on young tycoons who made fortunes in the turbulent years following the Soviet collapse.
Car dealer Boris Berezovsky and media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, were the first to be accused of the tax frauds. But both oligarchs fled the country to the safety of the West in the beginning of this decade. Soon it was Khodorkovsky's turn.
Openly defying the Putin administration and even hinting his intentions of pursuing a political career, made him vulnerable. Things got even worse as the oligarch fell out with Kremlin following his demands for further economic liberalization of the country and superfluous control to export Russian oil.
In 2003, Khodorkovsky along with his partner Platon Lebedev were accused of embezzling 218 tons of oil via Yukos and laundering over $97.5 million (3 billion rubles) in revenues. Following a trial he was jailed in 2005 for eight years and was due to be released in mid next year.
The Tax police filed enormous back-tax claims against his oil firm and forced it into filing for bankruptcy. The tycoon's empire collapsed as some of his oil fields were sold off at state-run auctions. In 2009 a second set of charges were slapped against Khodorkovsky with the Government alleging that businessman misappropriated $27.7bn (1 trillion rubles approximately) and laundering almost $12.5bn.
All these years, the oligarch pleaded innocence stating that the allegations against him were part of a political feud. He maintained that he was a victim of corrupt bureaucrats under Putin. Despite the government accusing him of financial misdeeds, Khodorkovsky supporters see him as the country's most prominent political prisoners. Several political analysts and western diplomats also consider that the charges against him were politically motivated and were in fact orchestrated by Kremlin.
In April 2007, one diplomat wrote to Washington, Khodorkovsky would likely remain in prison as long as Putin administration is in power. The former-tycoon's supporters also fear that he could serve a fresh sentence of up to 14 years following the fresh verdict.
Had he been found not guilty he would have been released in 2011, a few months before Russia's 2012 presidential elections, they said in a statement on Monday.
But even as the court is to announce the sentence next week or mid-January next year, analysts say that it looks like the government has already made up its mind on Khodorkovsky. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, when asked about oligarch's trial in the recent question-and-answer session said, a thief belongs in prison.