Aleksanyan Is Ordered Freed on Bail

APFormer Yukos official Vasily Aleksanyan attending a court hearing in February.
The Moscow City Court ruled Monday that former Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan, who is suffering from lymphatic cancer, tuberculosis and AIDS, will be freed on bail of 50 million rubles ($1.78 million).

Aleksanyan, who is being held under guard in a Moscow hospital, will be released after the money is deposited in the court's account, court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said.

It was not immediately clear how long it would take for Aleksanyan's lawyers to collect and deposit the money. Aleksanyan's lawyer, Yelena Lvova, said his relatives would have to raise the money because all of Aleksanyan's property has been frozen by the court.

Yury Shmidt, a lawyer for former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said he could not comment on whether Khodorkovsky would help pay Aleksanyan's bail. He did say, however, that Moscow lawyers might collect money for Aleksanyan and that he would personally participate in such an initiative.

Anatoly Kucherena, a celebrity lawyer and a member of the Public Chamber, welcomed the decision to release Aleksanyan as a "humane move," Interfax reported. A group of Public Chamber members had joined prominent human rights activists in calling for his release earlier this year.

But Shmidt suggested that the court might have an ulterior motive in its ruling. "I firmly believe that the decisions on jailed Yukos employees are being made at the very top, and these people know something about Aleksanyan's condition that pushed them to release him," he said. "I believe in their fear not in their humaneness."

Aleksanyan, 37, has almost completely lost his eyesight because of his illnesses, and doctors removed his cancerous spleen last month.

Also Monday, Aleksanyan's lawyers appealed to Moscow's Simonovsky District Court to close the criminal case against him because the statute of limitations on the charges had expired Dec. 1. Aleksanyan sent a separate letter Monday asking that the case be closed on humanitarian grounds, saying he lacked the physical strength to fight it further.

Lvova said the Simonovsky court had not yet decided when to consider the requests.

Aleksanyan, who headed Yukos' legal department, was arrested in April 2006 on suspicion of embezzlement and tax evasion. Earlier this year, he accused the authorities of denying him AIDS treatment while in custody for refusing to testify against his former Yukos employers Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are each serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 in a legal assault widely seen as Kremlin punishment for their political and commercial ambitions. Most of the assets of Yukos, once the country's biggest oil company, have been taken over by state-owned Rosneft.

In another Yukos case that has drawn criticism, Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina was twice denied parole this year even though she qualified for early release after serving more than half of her 6 1/2-year sentence. Bakhmina has three young children, including a daughter who was born last month. The Mordovia regional court is scheduled to consider an appeal on Dec. 24 to grant her parole.

Monday's ruling was unusual because Russian courts rarely release high-profile suspects pending trial. In another notable exception, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was released in October on a pledge not to leave town after 11 months in custody. Storchak has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars.

Aleksanyan's case should not be interpreted as a sign that the authorities are easing their tough stance on Yukos, said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. "Aleksanyan is seriously ill, and the authorities just no longer see him as dangerous," he said. "Keeping him in custody now could turn out to be more expensive for the Kremlin than letting him out."