Former Yukos Oil Co. owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky is pressing the U.S. to impose a visa ban and freeze the assets of some 30 officials involved in the imprisonment of a company lawyer who died after being denied medical care in prison.
Vasily Aleksanyan, who had AIDS and developed cancer while in jail, was imprisoned for more than 2 1/2 years until December 2008. The European Court of Human Rights had demanded his release, saying that Russia violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by denying him specialized treatment for AIDS. He died in October 2011 at the age of 39.
A group of U.S. senators last year proposed a bipartisan bill that would impose a visa ban and asset freeze on 60 Russian officials implicated in the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail, as well as others guilty of human-rights violations. Four senators last month said they wouldn’t support an Obama administration effort to repeal trade restrictions against Russia without support for the legislation.
“To ensure the deaths of both Aleksanyan and Magnitsky were not in vain, actions must be taken against those responsible for the abuses of their human rights,” Khodorkovsky’s defense team said in an e-mailed statement from New York. “This is the only way to achieve some justice for victims and to dissuade further tragedies in Russia.”
President Barack Obama’s administration in July implemented a visa ban on several Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky case. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, who’s pursuing Obama’s “reset” policy of improving ties with Russia, last month said the visa ban made the Magnitsky bill “redundant,” according to a Foreign Policy report posted on the envoy’s Twitter Inc. account.
Magnitsky, a lawyer for London-based Hermitage Capital Management Ltd., said he was abused and denied medical care in an effort to force him to drop fraud allegations against Interior Ministry officials before his death in November 2009 after almost a year in pretrial detention. He was facing fabricated tax-evasion charges when he was beaten to death, President Dmitry Medvedev’s human rights commission said in a report last year.
Bill Browder, head of Hermitage Capital, said in an interview that the Aleksanyan case reinforced arguments for the Magnitsky legislation, which describes the prosecution and imprisonment of Khodorkovsky and other Yukos officials as “politically motivated.”
Khodorkovsky, 49, whose fortune was once estimated at $15 billion by Forbes magazine, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 and oil embezzlement in December 2010, charges he says were revenge for his financing of opposition parties. The tycoon, arrested in 2003, is serving 13 years in prison.
Yukos, once Russia’s biggest oil exporter, was declared bankrupt in 2006, facing $30 billion of tax claims, and sold off in pieces. State-owned OAO Rosneft controls most of its former oil production and refining assets.
A bipartisan group of senators on March 16 said in a letter they were prepared to support repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, passed to punish the communist Soviet Union for restricting Jewish emigration, if new legislation includes “targeted sanctions on individuals who perpetrate gross violations of human rights in Russia.”
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Democrat Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, signed the letter. It was sent to Max Baucus, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the panel.
The Senate may take up legislation “within a couple of months” to repeal Jackson-Vanik, Baucus said in a March 15 interview. Maintaining the law after Russia joins the World Trade Organization later this year will penalize U.S. companies doing business in Russia.
“The Aleksanyan case, the Magnitsky case and hundreds of others like it are now all widely accepted in Washington as good reasons why it would be unconscionable to repeal Jackson-Vanik without putting some other strong human-rights legislation in place against Russia,” Browder said by phone yesterday from London. “There is a preponderance of evidence that he was deliberately and systematically denied medical care over a long period of time.”
Last September, Russian human-rights activists and opposition politicians called on the U.S. Senate to blacklist 305 officials in Russia involved in the prosecution of Yukos and Khodorkovsky. Two of 31 judges, investigators and prison officials in the Aleksanyan case also feature among the 60 people linked to Magnitsky’s death.
Aleksanyan was arrested on April 6, 2006, just six days after being appointed executive vice president of Yukos to handle relations with the court-appointed bankruptcy manager. Embezzlement charges against him were dropped in June 2010.
His death “was not an accident, but the product of cruel and inhuman treatment he received at the hands of Russian prosecutors and prison officials during a prolonged unlawful imprisonment,” Khodorkovsky’s defense team said.