Russia’s former Minister for Economic Development has been sentenced to 8 years in prison and fined $2.2 million by a court in Moscow for bribing the head of the Russian oil company Rosneft. Alexei Ulyukayev was arrested in November 2016 with $2 million in the boot of his car. He had just accepted the bribe from the CEO of Rosneft and right hand man of President Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin. The court upheld the prosecution’s claim that the money was paid in exchange for approving the sale of state-owned oil company Bashneft to Rosneft.
Ulyukayev’s defence team argued that he was framed and had been told that bag of money he was handed by Sechin actually contained a gift of specialty sausages and wine. According to the prosecution, Ulyukayev demanded the bribe from Sechin in October 2016 when they met at a BRICS forum in Goa. Sechin contacted the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) who set up a sting operation and arrested Ulyukayev a month later when he went to the Rosneft offices to collect the money.
According to Kremlinologists, Ulyukayev’s conviction, the first for a serving minister since 1953 , speaks to the ongoing tension between powerful factions within the Kremlin. Sechin, who is often described as the second most powerful man in Russia, has been a close confidant of Putin’s since before he became President. Ulyukayev, on the other hand, has never been a member of Putin’s inner circle and had fallen afoul of the president by criticising Russian economic policy. Analysts see the harsh sentence meted out to Ulyukayev as a warning to Putin’s critics.
In his closing statements Ulyukayev presented himself as a victim of a Stalinesque show trial. “An elderly gladiator at retirement age defends himself with a cardboard sword, and people sit back to watch the whole thing happily from their comfy seats,” he said. “Whether the thumb points up or down will decide his sentence. It was said long ago for whom the bell tolls. I want to say now that the bell could start tolling for any of you.”