MOSCOW: A Russian court on Friday sentenced former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev to eight years in a penal colony on charges of taking a $2 million bribe from an ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Ulyukayev is the highest-ranking official arrested in Putin’s 18 years in power.
A Moscow court ruled he must also pay a fine of 130 million roubles ($2.2 million) for taking the bribe from Igor Sechin, head of the state oil giant Rosneft, in a sting operation.
Judge Larisa Semyonova said the eight years would be served in a “harsh regime” colony. Prosecutors had sought a ten-year sentence.
Ulyukayev has denied the charges, which he has called “absurd”, saying he was entrapped by Sechin.
Before the ruling he made an effort to appear upbeat with reporters, saying he was expecting a fair hearing and gesturing only to a briefcase of documents when asked if he had brought any belongings with him.
After being handed a bunch of white roses, he said, “I’m told that they are from a fan. The important thing is that my wife doesn’t find out.”
Previously he said a long 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.
Ulyukayev, who became economic development minister in 2013, 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 said 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.
The judge accepted the prosecutors’ allegation that the former economy minister had shown Sechin two fingers, which they claimed was code for $2 million.
Sechin has not attended the court hearings despite being summoned as a witness.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused on Friday to comment on the ruling. Ulyukayev lost a striking amount of weight while under house arrest and calmly read books by Chekhov and Kafka, as well as Plato’s Apology of Socrates, during the trial. — AFP