Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev charged with USD 2 million bribe

Russia on Tuesday charged Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev over suspicions he pocketed a two-million- dollar payoff during a deal involving state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

AFP| Updated: Nov 15, 2016, 19:39 PM IST
Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev charged with USD 2 million bribe

Moscow: Russia on Tuesday charged Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev over suspicions he pocketed a two-million- dollar payoff during a deal involving state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

Ulyukayev was the highest ranking official to be detained over suspected corruption since President Vladimir Putin took power in 2000 and vowed to clamp down on endemic graft.

The 60-year-old minister's detention has sparked a wave of speculation over whether the charges could be linked to an internal power struggle.

Russia's Investigative Committee said Ulyukayev had "illegally demanded" payment to give his go-ahead for Rosneft to acquire a majority stake from the state in Russian oil company Bashneft in a USD 5.2-billion deal last month.

Investigators accused Ulyukayev of "threatening (and) using his ministerial powers to create obstacles to the company's activities in the future."

The committee had said earlier today that the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, detained Ulyukayev following an operation on Monday as he was receiving the bribe.

Investigators did not say who handed the alleged bribe to Ulyukayev.

The eventual sale of the 50.07-percent stake in Russia's sixth-largest producer came after months of wrangling that has seen Rosneft - headed by Igor Sechin, a powerful Putin ally - face down opposition from some in the government.

Ulyukayev originally opposed the sale but later endorsed it after Putin said it could help fill state coffers.

The large-scale bribe-taking charge could see him face a jail term of between eight and 15 years.

Investigators today requested that Ulyukayev be put under house arrest, an investigative committee spokeswoman told RIA Novosti state news agency.
Investigators have said that the acquisition itself of the Bashneft shares was not the subject of the criminal investigation.

Ulyukayev, who has served as head of the ministry of economic development since 2013, was tasked with pulling Russia out of the longest economic crisis since Putin took power 16 years ago, sparked in late 2014 by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

RIA Novosti cited a law enforcement source as saying that Ulyukayev was detained as part of a "sting operation" after investigators received "serious evidence" from "tapping his conversations and the conversations of his associates."

A Rosneft spokesman declined to comment on the charges but that it acquired the Bashneft stake "in accordance with Russian law on the basis of the best commercial offer made to the operating bank."