Former Russian minister accuses head of country's state oil giant of framing him

Alec Luhn
Alexei Ulyukayev - EPA

Alexei Ulyukayev, the former economic development minister who lost his position after being arrested in a security agency sting in November, has accused the head of Russia's state oil giant of framing him.

Looking gaunt but determined at the opening of his trial, Mr Ulyukayev, the first sitting minister to be detained by police since Soviet times, denied charges he had taken a $2 million (£1.6 million) bribe to back Rosneft's purchase of oil company Bashneft.

Instead he pointed the finger at Rosneft head Igor Sechin, Vladimir Putin's former aide, who has been called Russia's “Darth Vader” and is widely seen as the country's second most powerful man.

“Charges have been fabricated against me that are based solely on [Mr] Sechin's testimony,” he said in court.

In his first comments since his arrest, Mr Ulukayev claimed Mr Sechin had asked him to come to Rosneft headquarters to discuss the company's affairs, where he was handed a briefcase full of money and members of the FSB security agency then detained him.

Mr Ulukayev faces 15 years in prison.

Many see the case against him as a struggle between Mr Sechin, who has favoured greater involvement in the economy by government companies, against liberal officials seeking privatisation and market reforms.

Mr Ulyukayev spoke out last summer against state-owned Rosneft participating in the Bashneft privatisation.

The court has named Mr Sechin as a witness in the trial, which continues on September 1, although Rosneft said he had not yet been called to testify.

The respected business daily Vedomosti reported in November that besides Mr Ulyukayev, the FSB was following Arkady Dvorkovich, the deputy prime minister, and presidential aide Andrei Belousov, both of whom opposed Bashneft's sale to Rosneft.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, called Mr Ulyukayev's arrest a “difficult event”.

“This trial is partly reminiscent of Stalin-era trials,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a Carnegie Centre Moscow analyst, told local television. “The number of people arrested among the elite that supports this regime shows that a big purge is going on.”

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