Yuri Schmidt, a lawyer for imprisoned former Yukos Oil Co. owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, died at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer, according to a statement today on Khodorkovsky’s website.
Schmidt had headed Khodorkovsky’s defense team since 2004, a year after the businessman was arrested at gunpoint on the tarmac of a Siberian airport on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Schmidt said he couldn’t immediately “envision how much the authorities hated Khodorkovsky,” who himself called the cases retribution for political opposition to President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.
The statement described Schmidt as “an outstanding professional” and “a rare citizen” who fought for others until the end. In 1991, Schmidt formed the Russian Committee of Lawyers in Defense of Human Rights.
Despite undergoing surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Schmidt continued to appear in court and traveled regularly to visit Khodorkovsky in prison in Karelia.
Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were sentenced to eight-year terms in 2005 and convicted on new charges in December 2010. Their terms were cut in December last year to 11 years from 13 years by the Moscow City Court, meaning they may be free by the end of next year.