Ar­rested Rus­sian min­is­ter wanted state to cede con­trol over Ros­neft

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Rus­sia’s for­mer Econ­omy Min­is­ter Alexei Ulyukayev pri­vately ar­gued to col­leagues in gov­ern­ment that the state should give up con­trol over oil gi­ant Ros­neft, be­fore he was ar­rested two weeks ago in a sting in­side the com­pany’s of­fices, ac­cord­ing to two sources.

A source fa­mil­iar with Ulyukayev’s think­ing, speak­ing be­fore Ulyukayev was ar­rested on bribery charges on Nov. 15, told Reuters that the min­is­ter had been pro­mot­ing the idea of re­duc­ing the gov­ern­ment’s stake in Ros­neft, Rus­sia’s biggest oil com­pany, to be­low 50 per­cent. The sec­ond source, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, con­firmed that Ulyukayev had dis­cussed this idea with other of­fi­cials be­fore he was de­tained.

“Ulyukayev was talk­ing about that,” the sec­ond source said. Sev­eral gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who spoke to Reuters said that there was no ev­i­dence that his ar­rest was mo­ti­vated by any­thing other than a de­sire to tackle cor­rup­tion. Reuters has un­cov­ered no ev­i­dence that Ulyukayev’s stance on state con­trol of Ros­neft was linked to his pros­e­cu­tion.

How­ever, oil in­dus­try ex­perts say any plan to re­duce state con­trol of Ros­neft would have weak­ened the po­si­tion of the com­pany’s pow­er­ful boss Igor Sechin, a con­fi­dant of Vladimir Putin black­listed by the United States as part of the Rus­sian pres­i­dent’s in­ner cir­cle. Reuters sent writ­ten ques­tions to the Krem­lin and Ros­neft, which pro­vided no im­me­di­ate re­sponse. Pre­vi­ously, Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has re­ferred ques­tions about Ulyukayev’s case to pros­e­cu­tors. Ro­man Nes­terov, the state in­ves­ti­ga­tor han­dling Ulyukayev’s case, de­clined to an­swer Reuters ques­tions. Ros­neft has praised law en­force­ment of­fi­cials for “ef­fec­tive and ad­e­quate” ac­tion in de­tain­ing Ulyukayev.

Ulyukayev, who was fired hours af­ter his ar­rest, de­nies the charges against him. He was the first sit­ting cab­i­net mem­ber to be ar­rested in more than two decades. The Krem­lin and in­ves­ti­ga­tors say it is a straight­for­ward crim­i­nal bribery case with no other tar­gets. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say Ulyukayev tried to ex­tort a $2 mil­lion bribe from Ros­neft in ex­change for ap­prov­ing its $5 bil­lion pur­chase of a stake in mid-sized Rus­sian oil firm Bash­neft ear­lier this year.

The role of Ros­neft in help­ing to pros­e­cute the case has led some in Rus­sia’s rul­ing elite to view it as part of a bat­tle be­tween pow­er­ful clans within the rul­ing elite. Pros­e­cu­tors say the com­pany had alerted the au­thor­i­ties to the wrong­do­ing be­fore se­cu­rity ser­vice of­fi­cers swooped into its of­fices to ar­rest Ulyukayev, and sev­eral sources have said a mem­ber of the com­pany’s se­cu­rity staff worked for weeks help­ing gather ev­i­dence against the econ­omy min­is­ter. —Reuters

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