Rus­sian Econ­omy Min­is­ter charged

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tors yes­ter­day charged Econ­omy Min­is­ter Alexei Ulyukayev with ex­tort­ing a $2 mil­lion bribe from Ros­neft, Rus­sia’s big­gest oil com­pany, in a case that threat­ens to ex­pose fault lines in Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s in­ner cir­cle. Ulyukayev, a 60-year-old tech­no­crat whose min­istry has been over­see­ing a sale of state as­sets, is the high­est-rank­ing Rus­sian of­fi­cial to be de­tained while in of­fice since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

He faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty. The In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee, the state agency that in­ves­ti­gates ma­jor crimes, said Ulyukayev had ex­torted the bribe in ex­change for ap­prov­ing Ros­neft’s $5 bil­lion pur­chase of a stake in mid-sized oil pro­ducer Bash­neft. In a twist rem­i­nis­cent of the Soviet era, his de­ten­tion was an­nounced in the early hours of yes­ter­day, with state TV and pro-Krem­lin politi­cians pre­sent­ing it as part of a high-pro­file fight against cor­rup­tion. Oth­ers said it was ev­i­dence of in­fight­ing at the high­est lev­els of power, pos­si­bly in­volv­ing Igor Sechin, the chief of Ros­neft, a close Putin lieu­tenant who is one of Rus­sia’s most pow­er­ful men, and might herald a shake-up. Low oil prices and Western sanc­tions mean the govern­ment is strug­gling to plug holes in the state bud­get ahead of a 2018 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and that com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources in­side the tightly-con­trolled sys­tem has be­come more acute. Law en­force­ment sources told Rus­sian me­dia the min­is­ter’s phones had been tapped and his elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions mon­i­tored. In­ves­ti­ga­tors set up a sting op­er­a­tion in which the al­leged bribe was handed over on Mon­day, the re­ports said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said Ulyukayev had threat­ened to use his po­si­tion to cause prob­lems for Ros­neft un­less it paid him.

They said they were not chal­leng­ing the le­gal­ity of Ros­neft’s pur­chase of the Bash­neft stake or in­ves­ti­gat­ing it. Putin was in­formed about the case when the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was first launched, Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters. — Reuters

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