UPDATE 1-Putin says will soon pardon jailed oil tycoon Khodorkovsky

Thu Dec 19, 2013 8:06am EST

MOSCOW Dec 19 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he would soon pardon jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who still has eight months left to serve of a more than 10-year jail sentence and is see by Kremlin opponents as a political prisoner.

"He has been in jail already more than ten years, this is a serious punishment," Putin told reporters after an annual news conference, saying that the former Yukos oil company chief had asked him for a pardon.

"He cites humanitarian reasons. His mother is ill, " Putin said. "I decided that with this circumstances in mind, it is necessary to take a decision, and in the near future a decree pardoning him will be signed."

Khodorkovsky's main lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, denied his client had asked for a pardon but said that was not required.

"Let them pardon him ... The president has the full right to do this at any moment," Klyuvgant told Reuters.

Once Russia's richest man, Khordorkovsky was arrested in 2003 after falling out with Putin and has been convicted of crimes including fraud, theft and money laundering in two trials that have harmed Putin's image in the West.

Kremlin critics say Khodorkovsky, 50, is the victim of a campaign to punish him for perceived political challenges to Putin, keep other wealthy tycoons in line and tighten the state's grip over lucrative oil revenues.

Khodorkovsky mother, Marina, said she had just heard the reports and was unaware of a request for a pardon.

"I want to believe he will pardon him," she told Reuters. "I want to believe Putin is not totally lost."