Russian-born lawyer Emanuel Zeltser, known for exposing an estimated $10 billion money laundering scheme between a Russian bank and the Bank of New York in 1990s, was arrested by the Belarusian KGB on his arrival in the country on March 12. Media reports said he had been charged with using forged documents.
"The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of American citizen Emanuel Zeltser, imprisoned in Belarus," the State Department said in a statement released on Monday.
The statement said that despite repeated direct requests to Belarusian officials in both Washington and Minsk, Belarusian authorities have only permitted U.S. government access to Zeltser twice.
During the second visit on April 25, the consular officer noticed a significant physical deterioration in Zeltser's health. Zeltser's brother Mark said Emanuel, who suffers from arthritis and diabetes, had not been permitted to take his required daily medications.
Because of these serious concerns, on April 25, the Department of State requested Emanuel Zeltser's release on humanitarian grounds.
"We have yet to receive a response and urge the Belarusian government to respond quickly and favorably to this request," the State Department said.
The U.S. and the European Union have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections. Lukashenko, who was re-elected to a third term in 2006, and other senior Belarusian officials, have been blacklisted from entering the U.S. and the EU.
Tensions between the U.S. and Belarus heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary, demanding the release of political prisoners.
The measure led to withdrawals of diplomats from both sides.