Jailed Yukos executive is denied cancer treatment

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The Independent Online

An imprisoned executive of the former oil giant Yukos has been refused hospital treatment for Aids and cancer by a Russian court.

Vasily Aleksanian, vice-president of one of Russia's largest companies, was due to be tried this week on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion, after being declared fit and healthy by the court last week.

A wave of domestic and international pressure seems to have influenced the situation, and yesterday the trial was postponed. But the court ruled that Mr Aleksanian should receive treatment in prison, and not in a specialist hospital. Mr Aleksanian denies all the charges brought against him, which he says are politically motivated. He claims investigators offered him a deal where he would be freed and allowed to receive treatment abroad if he gave testimony against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos.

Khodorkovsky, who was convicted in 2005 in a trial that many suspect was revenge for his backing of democratic parties, has been condemned to a Siberian prison cell until 2011. But he may face another trial this year that could extend that term. "I had the courage not to make those statements that they asked me to make," Mr Aleksanian told the court yesterday.

Late last week, the presiding judge said there was no evidence that the defendant was too ill to stand trial. Mr Aleksanian has late-stage Aids, lymphoma and has gone partly blind.

He is also believed to have contracted tuberculosis in prison. A source close to Mr Aleksanian said he was not given any medical attention for a month in hospital, and was then visited by a doctor who suggested he had caught a cold. "A decision was taken to destroy me, and it seems it's very easy to do that in our country," said Mr Aleksanian. "The Gulag is alive and well."

A group of writers and journalists have signed a petition demanding his transfer to a hospital, and Khodorkovsky is already in the 10th day of a hunger strike in support of his former colleague. Analysts say the publicity surrounding the case would have made the Kremlin uncomfortable so close to a presidential election, and there were fears Mr Aleksanian might die while standing trial.

Nevertheless, the court refused the application to move the defendant to a hospital, saying that he might try to escape.