/ 7 February 2008

Russian court refuses to release sick oil boss

A Russian court refused bail on Wednesday to a jailed oil executive who is gravely ill with HIV/Aids, the latest ruling in a case that has put Russia in breach of an order from the European Court of Human Rights.

Vasily Alexanian (36) has said he will die unless he is transferred from his Moscow prison to a specialist hospital, and the Strasbourg-based European court has given three separate instructions to the Russian authorities to move him.

Alexanian is a former vice-president of Yukos, an oil company whose founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was imprisoned in what was widely seen as a Kremlin campaign to punish the businessman for his political ambitions.

A judge at Moscow’s Simonovsky district court ordered that Alexanian’s trial for fraud and tax evasion be suspended while he receives treatment. It was the first admission by a court that he is gravely ill.

But the court rejected a request for him to be released on bail, saying he was a flight risk and could receive the treatment he needed in the sanatorium at the Sailor’s Rest prison in Moscow where he is being held.

”They are not giving me any treatment in there,” Alexanian told reporters from his metal cage in a corner of the courtroom.

”There is no guarantee they will give me access to a specialist clinic. All they are doing is adjourning the trial. That is all. Nothing else.”

Alexanian’s lawyers say his condition has left him partially blind, suffering from cancer of the lymph nodes and with suspected tuberculosis.

Tired and thin

He looked tired and thin and had difficulty walking as he was led, in handcuffs, out of the courtroom. Supporters shouted ”Freedom!” as he was led away.

Alexanian has accused prosecutors of deliberately denying him adequate treatment to try to blackmail him into giving false evidence against Khodorkovsky, who could be tried this year on a new set of charges.

Khodorkovsky has started a hunger strike in solidarity with his former colleague.

Alexanian’s lawyers said prison doctors diagnosed him months ago but he was still not receiving drug therapy. They said they had no confidence the treatment would be provided now.

”Today’s judgment is outrageous and incomprehensible,” Alexanian’s lawyer at the European Court, Drew Holiner, said in a statement.

Prosecutors deny mistreating Alexanian. They accuse him of using his condition to try to hold up the trial, and say he was offered adequate medical care but refused to accept it.

In the court ruling on Wednesday, judge Olga Nedelina said: ”Alexanian has the opportunity in the conditions of pre-trial detention to receive all the treatment that he needs.”

Rights groups including Amnesty International have urged Russia to transfer Alexanian to a specialist hospital.

One of Alexanian’s brothers works as a translator at Reuters’ Moscow office. – Reuters