Russian court: ex-minister guilty of taking $2 million bribe

Political and Legal

Russia's former economics minister was handed an eight-year prison sentence Friday after being convicted of accepting a $2 million bribe from one of President Vladimir Putin's top associates. The high-profile trial of Alexei Ulyukayev has been widely seen as part of infighting between Kremlin clans. Ulyukayev was a key member of a group of liberal-minded technocrats in the Cabinet, while his accuser, Igor Sechin is the most prominent representative of the hard-line flank of the Russian elite.

Sechin heads Russia's largest oil producer, Rosneft, and his clout seconds only that of Putin. The 61-year-old Ulyukayev is the highest-ranking Russian official to be arrested in more than two decades. The case was viewed by many as Sechin's personal vendetta against Ulyukayev, who had been critical of a Rosneft privatization plan proposed by Sechin.

Ulyukayev was detained a year ago at Rosneft's headquarters following a sting operation by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main KGB successor agency.

Sechin claimed in written testimony that Ulyukayev was extorting a bribe from him in exchange for issuing a positive assessment of Rosneft's bid to take over another oil company, Bashneft.

Ulyukayev denied the charges, calling them a provocation set up by Sechin. The minister argued that a person would have to be insane to try to extort a bride from the powerful Sechin.

Sechin has flaunted repeated court orders to testify as a witness at Ulyukayev's trial, citing urgent business. Asked Thursday about Sechin's failure to show up, Putin said at his marathon news conference that he saw no violation of legal procedures by his lieutenant.

A Moscow court on Friday also ordered Ulyukayev to pay a $2.2 million fine.