Tuesday, 15 November 2016

RUSSIA: Alexei Ulyukayev Detained Over $2 Million Bribe Allegation

Russian authorities have detained Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev on corruption charges linked to a $US5 billion ($6.6 billion) acquisition by state oil giant Rosneft, in a case that could lay bare the fault lines in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

Mr Ulyukayev, a 60-year-old technocrat whose ministry has been overseeing a sell-off of state assets, is the highest-ranking Russian official to be arrested while in office since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Investigative Committee, the state agency that investigates major crimes, said Mr Ulyukayev received a $2.65 million bribe in exchange for signing off on Rosneft's purchase of a stake in mid-sized oil producer Bashneft.

"The minister is detained," the Committee said in a statement.

"In the near future investigators plan to bring charges against Alexei Ulyukayev."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Mr Putin had been informed about the case when the investigation was launched.

"These are serious allegations," Mr Peskov said.

"Only a court can deliver a verdict."

He said he did not know whether the detention meant that Rosneft's purchase of Bashneft could be reviewed.

Rosneft's acquisition of Bashneft was the focus of a major turf war between rival Kremlin camps, sources close to the deal and in the government have said.

The deal was fiercely opposed by economic liberals in the government, some with ties to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who believed Bashneft should go to private investors.

Mr Ulyukayev initially opposed Rosneft buying Bashneft, one of the most lucrative state assets to be privatised in years, but eventually signed off on the deal.

Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin have spoken about the detention, the Prime Minister's office said.

"The Prime Minister believes that the most painstaking investigation of this case is required," his office said in a statement.