In Russia Putin’s ex-minister risks decade in jail over $2m ‘bribe’

A Russian court is set to rule Friday in the high-profile trial of former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who is accused of taking a bribe from an oil boss close to President Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors have asked the Moscow court to find the 61-year-old guilty on charges he took a $2 million bribe from Igor Sechin, head of the state oil giant Rosneft, in a sting operation.

They urged the judge to sentence Ulyukayev to 10 years in a “harsh regime” prison colony and order him to pay a fine of 500 million rubles ($8.5 million).

The hearing, at which the judge will pronounce a verdict and then hand down a sentence, is due to open at 10 am (0700 GMT).

Ulyukayev, who became economic development minister in 2013, is the highest-ranking official arrested during Putin’s 17 years in power.

He was arrested at Rosneft’s headquarters last year after being handed a bag containing $2 million by Sechin, who had asked security forces to set up a sting.

Sechin told investigators that Ulyukayev had demanded the bribe in return for backing a controversial deal in which Rosneft acquired a stake in Bashneft, another state-run oil group.

Ulyukayev had originally opposed the sale of the stake to Rosneft but later endorsed it after Putin said it would help fill state coffers.

Ulyukayev has denied the charge, saying that he believed the bag contained expensive wines that Sechin had promised him to celebrate the deal.

The prosecution did not provide any proof that Ulyukayev opened the bag of marked notes and therefore knew he was receiving a bribe.

Sechin has failed to attend court hearings despite being summoned as a witness.

Ulyukayev has lost a striking amount of weight while under house arrest and has calmly read books by Chekhov and Kafka, as well as Plato’s Apology of Socrates, during the trial.

In his final speech, he asked forgiveness from Russians for ignoring the injustices of Russia’s political system while in power and focusing on building his network and advancing his career.

“When everything is good you shamefully turn away from people’s grief. Forgive me for that, people,” Ulyukayev told the court, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.

He said a 10-year sentence in a harsh-regime colony, most of which are in remote locations and offer prisoners little contact with families, would effectively be a death sentence.