Investigation Новость дня

Court jails former Russian economy minister for corruption

Алексей Улюкаев. 8 августа 2017 года. Источник фото: Станислав Красильников / ТАСС.

This material belongs to: The Guardian.

Alexei Ulyukayev sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $2.2m in case that has shocked liberal elements of Russia’s elite.

A Moscow court has sentenced a former Russian economy minister to eight years in a high-security prison for corruption, in a verdict that is likely to send chills through the Russian elite.

Alexei Ulyukayev was also ordered to pay a $2.2m (£1.7m) fine as part of the punishment for soliciting a $2m bribe from Igor Sechin, the chief executive of the state oil company Rosneft, who is widely seen as the second most powerful man in Russia after Vladimir Putin.

Ulyukayev was arrested in a sting operation at Rosneft’s headquarters last year, after Sechin handed him a basket containing $2m in specially marked $100 bills. Sechin said in his testimony that Ulyukayev had asked for the bribe during a game of billiards at a summit in India.

The former minister said he had never made any demands and assumed the basket contained sausages or wine. There was little evidence in the case except Sechin’s testimony, and he refused to show up at court despite receiving several summons. He said he was too busy.

The trial was a rare case of the vicious infighting between government clans spilling out into the open. Putin has attempted to portray himself as above the fray, but said at his annual press conference on Thursday that he did not understand why Sechin had refused to appear in court.

In a sign that there may still be a behind-the-scenes battle going on over the case, an unnamed source told the Tass news agency that Ulyukayev’s health meant he may not have to serve the time in prison.

The case has widely been seen as Sechin’s revenge for Ulyukayev opposing Rosneft’s takeover of another oil company. While Russian courts rarely give innocent verdicts, many were expecting a suspended sentence as a compromise. The harsh sentence sent shockwaves through the more liberal parts of the Russian elite.

Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, tweeted: “An awful, unfounded sentence. Weak and biased investigative work. Unfortunately, many people are suffering this kind of injustice today.”

In his final words to the court last week, Ulyukayev insisted he was innocent, but apologised for turning a blind eye to injustice during his time in government.

“I am guilty instead of too often agreeing to compromise, of taking the easy way out and choosing my career over standing up for principles,” he said.