he spends his days in the Matrosskaya Tishina detention facility, and doctors
say he "could die any day," according to one of his lawyers.
was hunched over and visibly exhausted as he sat in the defendant's cage at
Simonovsky District Court this week. His appearance was not surprising for a
man who has been diagnosed with AIDS and cancer, and who had been held in jail
for nearly two years before his trial on charges of embezzlement and tax
evasion began Tuesday.
an outcry from activists and repeated requests from the European Court of Human
Rights, Aleksanyan's trial was put on hold Wednesday -- but judges sent the
former Yukos vice president back to his prison hospital, overruling objections
from his defense team and officials at the prison itself.
was the latest blow to a man whose career has plummeted from spectacular
and colleagues describe Aleksanyan, 36, as having a sharp legal mind, a deep
sense of loyalty and a willingness to take big risks when circumstances
was born into a highly educated Moscow family in 1971. His father, a physicist,
was an ethnic Armenian who had lived in Moscow since the 1950s, while his
mother was Russian. They now live in southwest Moscow.
Drel, a longtime friend and colleague, described Aleksanyan's family as
"intellectual" and said his father had spent his life preoccupied
lost my own father when I was young, and I can say that many people would be
lucky to have such a father," said Drel, who is best known as a lawyer for
jailed oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
also has two brothers. The elder works for Troika Dialog investment bank, while
the younger works for the Reuters news agency.
wrapped up his education quickly, graduating from the law department of Moscow
State University in 1993 and going on to Harvard Law School for an LL.M.
degree, a one-year program popular with international students. When he left
Harvard in 1995, he was only 25.
still a student at Moscow State University, Aleksanyan proved his courage and
his sharp negotiation skills in a 1992 incident remembered by another longtime
friend and colleague, U.S. citizen David Godfrey, who met Aleksanyan while
visiting Moscow on a student exchange program.
Aleksanyan and several other people were drinking in the bar of the Hotel Sport
in southern Moscow when a few thuggish-looking Chechens came up to them and
started hitting on the girls in the group, said Godfrey, a lawyer who heads
Yukos Finance, a Dutch subsidiary of the oil company.
began an "animated negotiation" with the Chechens, affecting a
Caucasus accent and stressing their shared roots to get on their good side,
girls were spirited away to safer territory, and ultimately no bar fight broke
out. "It was a highly impressive and very dangerous and bold attempt to
protect people he barely knew at all," Godfrey said by telephone from
has lived outside Russia ever since coming under investigation by the
Prosecutor General's Office, which accuses him and three other foreign Yukos
managers of siphoning $10 billion of Yukos assets out of the country via a
Dutch-based foundation. The managers deny wrongdoing.
graduating from Harvard, Aleksanyan returned to Russia and worked briefly at
SUN Group, an international investment company.
1996, he left SUN and signed on with the rapidly growing business empire of
Khodorkovsky, the powerful oligarch who had made a fortune in controversial
privatization deals. Aleksanyan would head Yukos' legal department until 2003.
again showed his negotiation skills at his job interview, Godfrey and another
former Yukos colleague said.
Khodorkovsky offered Aleksanyan the job, the lawyer countered with a list of
demands. The most important one was direct access to Khodorkovsky -- something
Aleksanyan felt he needed in order to do the job.
Yukos was a huge company and he was quite young, he understood perfectly well
that he would be surrounded by many people with their own interests," the
create a transparent company, he knew he needed access to its No. 1 official,"
he said. The colleague, a longtime friend, asked to remain anonymous because he
did not want to get involved with the publicity surrounding Aleksanyan's trial.
Godfrey and the colleague described Aleksanyan as a key player in the push to
transform Yukos into a transparent company and a standard-bearer for Western
business values in Russia.
course, being the top lawyer at Russia's biggest oil company was also highly
1998 to 2004, Aleksanyan had six cars registered in his name: a Mercedes-Benz
G-500 sport utility vehicle, a Porsche 911 sports car and an Audi A8 sedan, as
well as a BMW X5, a Mitsubishi Pajero and another Mercedes of unclear model,
according to an online Moscow traffic police database.
lawyer was also courted by another oligarch, Roman Abramovich, then-head of the
Sibneft oil company, Godfrey and the colleague said.
Abramovich and Aleksanyan had a face-to-face meeting in the late 1990s, the billionaire
showed the lawyer a suitcase containing $1 million in cash and told him that it
would be his signing bonus if he agreed to join Abramovich's team that very
day, Godfrey and the colleague said, recounting a story that they had heard
from Aleksanyan himself. Aleksanyan turned down the offer.
spokesman for Abramovich did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for
2003, the year the state began its legal assault on Yukos, Aleksanyan formally
stepped down from his position as the head of Yukos' legal department but
continued to work as a personal lawyer for Khodorkovsky and fellow Yukos
shareholder Platon Lebedev.
went rapidly downhill for Yukos. Over the next few years, Khodorkovsky was
sentenced to nine years in prison on charges relating to an early-1990s
privatization deal. The company was hit with massive claims for back taxes and
filed for bankruptcy. Its choicest assets were snapped up by Rosneft, the
state-owned oil company.
early 2006, Yukos CEO Steven Theede was in London avoiding a Russian criminal
investigation and complaining that the remains of the company in Moscow were
answering to Rosneft rather than to him.
a risky gambit, Aleksanyan agreed to return to Yukos as an executive vice
president and deal with its court-appointed bankruptcy manager, Eduard Rebgun.
then, Aleksanyan had not been caught up in any of the numerous investigations
into senior Yukos officials. His appointment in March 2006 changed everything.
two weeks, Aleksanyan was repeatedly called in for questioning by the
Prosecutor General's Office, and he was continuously followed by the same four
cars, he said in an interview with Kommersant published in April 2006.
claimed that prosecutors were pressuring him to quit. "After I said I
would not leave Yukos, they told me with a smile that it was the first time
they had seen a person voluntarily asking to go to jail," he said.
was arrested April 6, 2006, on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion, and he
has been in detention ever since.
asked why Aleksanyan stayed at Yukos and did not flee Russia like many other
company officials, his friends offered several explanations, including his
tough character and an ironclad conviction that the law would back him up.
has a rather strong character. ... He is not afraid of anything," the
colleague said. "And he did not feel any sense of guilt."
noted that Aleksanyan had stood to benefit if the gambit paid off. "He's
not stupid," the American said. "He's a risk-taker, but he's not
few months after his detention, Aleksanyan learned he was HIV-positive. He also
began to lose eyesight in his one good eye. The other eye had been blind since
a childhood accident.
and his lawyers claim that the authorities used his illness as a bargaining
chip, threatening to withhold treatment unless he agreed to testify against
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.
a very principled person, and he's taken the position from the start that he's
not going to give false testimony against other people," said Drew
Holiner, Aleksanyan's representative at the European Court of Human Rights in
deny any unlawful treatment of Aleksanyan.
health deteriorated to the point where he had full-blown AIDS and other related
diseases, including terminal lymphoma and possibly tuberculosis, Holiner said.
He added that Aleksanyan may have contracted tuberculosis after being put in a
crowded holding cell with other inmates who had the disease.
November, Aleksanyan's defense team got the Strasbourg court to send Russia a
request asking for Aleksanyan to be transferred to a specialized AIDS hospital.
Since then, the request has been sent three more times, but it has yet to be
carried out, which puts Russia in violation of the European Convention of Human
Rights, Holiner said.
frankly amazed that he's survived this long," Holiner said.
AIDS became public knowledge last month after Prosecutor Vladimir Khomutovsky
revealed it in a Supreme Court hearing. Until then, statements from Aleksanyan
and his lawyers had referred to grave health problems but had refrained from
his plight now a public spectacle, Aleksanyan has won a number of supporters,
including nine human rights activists who went on a hunger strike this week to
protest his treatment. "The Russian government should be ashamed,"
Alexei Davidov, one of the hunger strikers, said outside the courtroom Tuesday.
"I don't want to be part of this lawlessness."
everyone has been sympathetic. A number of visitors to a LiveJournal blog site
said Aleksanyan's sufferings were a just reward for helping Khodorkovsky
acquire billions of dollars worth of assets in the 1990s.
one visitor said it was "subhuman" to laugh at the terminally ill,
another one retorted: "People who are making their fortunes by looting
natural resources are also subhuman. But if you steal, you should be prepared
that sooner or later they'll bust you."
himself seems focused on other things. Speaking to reporters in recent days, he
has often turned from criticism of the Russian court system to heartfelt
discourses about faith.
can only put my hopes in God," Aleksanyan said in his defendant's cage on
Wednesday. "Except for God, nobody can help me now. Do you know what it
says in the Old Testament? Put not your trust in princes."