By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s economy minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, was charged and detained on charges of soliciting a $2 million bribe on Tuesday. Ulyukayev accepted the bribe money from Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in exchange for his ministry’s approval of a sale between Rosneft and another government-owned oil company.
Authorities told reporters that Ulyukayev’s phones were tapped, and his electronic communications were being monitored. Investigators set up an operation in which the bribe was handed to Ulyukayev on Monday. According to authorities, Ulyukayev threatened to use his position as economy minister to create problems for Rosneft unless it handed him the $2 million. Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, told reporters that “Ulyukayev was caught red-handed as he received the bribe.”
Vyacheslav Voloshin, former head of Putin’s administration and current speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, praised Ulyukayev’s detainment because it “means there are no ‘untouchable people’ in Russia.”
Others view the arrest as a sign of political tension in the Russian government. Gleb Pavlovsky, former Putin strategist, called the move a “terrible sign of weakness at the top of the executive power” because Putin apparently knew of the investigation for months, yet allowed Ulyukayev to remain in office instead of firing him.
Some find the situation odd for a few reasons. First, the man Ulyukayev apparently threatened, Sechin, is believed to be one of the most powerful men in Russia and one who has Putin’s ear. Considering their close relationship, many believe that Sechin could have told Putin about the threat and no investigation would have occurred. Second, Alexander Shokhin, a man who worked with Ulyukayev on the Russian cabinet, pointed out that it was odd Ulyukayev would have asked for a bribe considering the oil company sold at market price.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, assured that Putin was aware of the investigation throughout the process. Peskov stated that “[t]hese are very serious accusations, and only a court can pass a verdict.”
Ulyukayev has been under investigation by Russia’s Federal Security Service for over a year. He is the highest-ranking Russian official to be detained while holding office since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. If guilty, he could face up to 15 years in jail, a maximum financial penalty of 70-100 times the sum of the bribe, and/or he would be stripped of the ability to serve in certain state office positions for 8-15 years.
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