Rus­sian ex-min­is­ter protests in­no­cence at cor­rup­tion trial

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MOSCOW: Rus­sia’s for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter Alexei Ulyukayev yes­ter­day in­sisted he was in­no­cent as his high-pro­file bribery trial be­gan in Moscow. Ulyukayev, 61, was ar­rested in Novem­ber 2016 while still a min­is­ter, the first time in decades an act­ing cab­i­net mem­ber had been de­tained and crim­i­nally charged. He de­nies hav­ing taken a $2 mil­lion kick­back (1.7 mil­lion euros) to clear state oil gi­ant Ros­neft to ac­quire a stake in oil firm Bash­neft.

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral prison ser­vice car took Ulyukayev from his home, where he is un­der house ar­rest, to Moscow’s Zamoskvoret­sky dis­trict court. Yes­ter­day’s hear­ing was a pre­lim­i­nary closed ses­sion to de­ter­mine how the trial would pro­ceed. Asked by jour­nal­ists out­side the court­house if he ac­knowl­edged his guilt, Ulyukayev said: “What do you think? Of course not.”

Look­ing vis­i­bly thin­ner, the ex-min­is­ter said he had lost 14 kilo­grams in the course of the case. “Thanks to our jus­tice sys­tem. “I did not take bribes,” he in­sisted as he got into the car that would take him back to his home. “It’s all a provo­ca­tion.” In­ves­ti­ga­tors say Ulyukayev de­manded a bribe from Ros­neft and was caught red-handed ac­cept­ing the cash. The identity of the per­son who al­legedly paid the bribe how­ever has not been re­vealed.

Sources say Ulyukayev was un­der sur­veil­lance by the se­cu­rity ser­vice, who had also tapped his phone. If con­victed, he faces up to 15 years in prison. Yes­ter­day’s hear­ing set the next court date for Au­gust 16, when Ulyukayev will be ex­pected to make a for­mal plea. The court also ruled to ex­tend Ulyukayev’s house ar­rest by an­other six months, un­til late January of next year.

Ulyukayev’s ar­rest was greeted with shock and be­wil­der­ment in Rus­sia, un­leash­ing spec­u­la­tion that it could be part of a power strug­gle in­side the gov­ern­ment ahead of next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev at the time called the ar­rest “a grave event... be­yond my com­pre­hen­sion” which proves that no of­fi­cial is im­mune to pros­e­cu­tion if he en­gages in cor­rup­tion.

An un­charis­matic of­fi­cial, Ulyukayev had been charged with the daunt­ing task of pulling Rus­sia out of eco­nomic cri­sis, and was con­sid­ered part of the lib­eral wing of the gov­ern­ment. He had ini­tially op­posed the sale of the 50.07-per­cent stake in Bash­neft to Ros­neft, which is headed by Igor Sechin, a pow­er­ful ally of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. He later en­dorsed it how­ever af­ter Putin said it could help fill state cof­fers. Fol­low­ing his ar­rest he was quickly dis­missed from his min­is­te­rial post in a de­cree is­sued by Putin. He was re­placed by a 35-year-old econ­o­mist Maxim Oreshkin, who had been work­ing at the fi­nance min­istry. —AFP

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