Russian lawyer denied prison medical leave dies

A former Yukos oil executive whose struggle to win medical treatment for Aids and cancer came to symbolise the harshness of the Russian prison system, has died.

Vasily Aleksanyan, a Harvard-educated lawyer who headed Yukos’s legal department and was briefly vice-president of the firm, was imprisoned in April 2006 as part of the sweep against the oil company.

He was diagnosed with HIV shortly after his arrest, and later with tuberculosis and cancer of the liver, as well as severely limited vision.

Prosecutors accused Aleksanyan of acting as an accomplice to embezzlement and money laundering, two of the charges levelled against his former boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of those charges last year, in a second trial his supporters say was designed to keep the former oligarch behind bars until at least 2017. Aleksanyan served as his lawyer after the tycoon’s arrest in 2003, on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Aleksanyan waged a long struggle to win himself early release so he could seek treatment for the diseases that were killing him. As Russian courts considered his case, he was moved to a hospital bed, to which he was chained. His supporters said the conditions in which he was held were degrading and inhumane.

In 2008, the European court of human rights in Strasbourg ordered Aleksanyan to be released on humanitarian grounds. A Russian court then demanded he post 50m roubles (£990,000) in bail. The charges against him were quietly dropped last year.

Aleksanyan, 39, died at home of complications from Aids, his family told Dozhd, a Russian TV channel.

Human rights activists have compared Aleksanyan’s treatment to that of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for the London-based investor William Browder, who was arrested while investigating alleged fraud by government officials. Magnitsky died in November 2009 after being denied treatment for a worsening stomach condition that he developed during his imprisonment in Butyrka prison, Moscow.

On Tuesday, Russian journalists and bloggers began circulating a list of those involved in Aleksanyan’s arrest. The US and UK have issued informal visa bans for around 60 officials accused of involvement in the death of Magnitsky.

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