MOSCOW, December 16 - RAPSI. Although former YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains steadfast in his denial of guilt, the president of Russia is constitutionally entitled to grant him a pardon, Khodorkovsky's counsel Yuri Shmidt told the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI/ on Thursday.

"It is a common error that a plea for mercy implies repentance. That is not true. Actually, Khodorkovsky said he will never plead guilty, but if I believed that Putin, upon becoming a president, would grant him a pardon, I would go on my knees in front of Khodorkovsky and implore him to write a plea," Shmidt said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier said that if he wins the 2012 presidential race he will consider Khodorkovsky's plea for mercy, if any. "If he sends a plea I will consider it," - Putin said on Thursday. Meanwhile Putin emphasized that in his plea Khodorkovsky is legally bound to plead guilty, although he was determined to deny his guilt before.

The YUKOS case has been one of the most high-profile cases in Russia in recent years. In early 2000 the Russian authorities cracked down on YUKOS management for alleged financial crimes. At the time, YUKOS was Russia's largest oil company. YUKOS later went bankrupt and its assets were appropriated by the state-owned Rosneft".

In 2005 Khodorkovsky and former Menatep head Platon Lebedev were sentenced to eight years in prison. In late 2010, a Moscow district court sentenced Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to 14 years in prison for oil theft and money laundering. They were expected to be released in 2017, taking into account the time they had served for their convictions from their first trial in 2005. However, on May 24, the Moscow City Court reduced their sentences by one year. The two now may be released in 2016.