It’s difficult to decide what to think about the current spate of arrests of Russian oligarchs. On the one hand, Mr Khodorkovsky has been a crook (and I say this fully aware of UK libel laws…); on the other, so has every other successful businessman in Russia.
The biggest problem is that the arrest appears to have been motivated not by Mr Khodorkovsky’s criminal past, but by his Putin-opposing present – not helped by Mr Putin’s belligerent anti-Khodorkovsky speech immediately following the tycoon’s arrest. Like other oligarchs who’ve used their wealth to fund opposition, Mr Khodorkovsky is being presented with the choice of leaving the country to enjoy his riches and leave the government alone, or (approximately) the gulag.
In general, enforcing laws selectively based on political disagreement or personal prejudices is as bad as (indeed, is almost equal to) locking people up for their political views or for being black/gay/a young man. Otherwise, police and/or prosecuters and/or the executive (depending on exactly how your political system works) end up having the power to jail people they don’t like for things that most sensible people would consider acceptable.
Going back to Russia, the only honourable options open to Mr Putin are to arrest and try absolutely everyone in the country with any money, except possibly tATu (although come to think of it, I wouldn’t object to administering the punishment… err, sorry), or to declare an amnesty and make clear that all future dodgy business dealings will be heavily punished.
Instead, the government’s current actions are making Russia look even more like a corrupt banana republic than it already did, which is impressive.