Putin says no one threatened economist who fled to Paris
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Tuesday that no one had threatened liberal economist Sergei Guriyev who fled to Paris last month, saying he was free to return.
"No one threatened him," Putin said in his first public comments on the fate of Guriyev, who left Moscow after being interrogated over the case of jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
"If he wants to come back, let him come back," he said.
"If he did not violate anything, he is not threatened by anything. That's 100 percent certain," said Putin in response to a question about Guriyev's fate at a joint news conference with EU leaders.
"And so are there any grounds to put him in jail? I know nothing about it. I only learnt his last name not so long ago," added Putin.
Guriyev is one of Russia's most prominent economists and government advisors.
His decision to leave Russia sent shock waves among the Moscow elites and sparked concerns that the country's best and brightest are now being forced out of the country if they do not agree with Kremlin policies.
Putin sought to play down Guriyev's abrupt departure. "He is a free man. If he wants to live in Paris, let him live in Paris. His wife lives and works in Paris," he said.
Guriyev, the liberal-leaning dean of the New Economic School, last month resigned from his post and joined his wife Yekaterina Zhuravskaya, herself a prominent economist, in Paris.
Guriyev, who publicly supports top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, was one of several experts who reviewed the legality of Khodorkovsky's conviction for the Kremlin's rights council, an advisory body.
Based on the experts' views, the council in 2011 released a report saying that Khodorkovsky's conviction in his second trial was unjust.
Over the past months, nearly all the Russian experts who worked on the report have come under pressure from investigators and have had their offices or homes searched.
Observers have expressed concern that investigators may be preparing a fresh case against Khodorkovsky, who in 2010 was convicted of a second set of fraud charges and is now set for release in 2014.
Khodorkovsky has been behind bars since 2003 and was initially convicted in 2005 of fraud and tax evasion.
Guriyev has said he will not return to Moscow as long as his freedom is not guaranteed in Russia.
© 2013 AFP