MOSCOW: A Russian court on Friday found former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev guilty of taking in $2-million bribe from an ally of President Vladimir Putin, in a case that could see him jailed for up to a decade.
Ulyukayev is the highest-ranking official arrested in Putin’s 17 years in power.
“Ulyukayev is guilty of having taken a bribe as he carried out official duties,” said judge Larisa Semyonova of the Moscow court, with sentencing expected to follow.
Prosecutors have called for him to face 10 years in a “harsh regime” prison colony for taking the bribe from Igor Sechin, head of the state oil giant Rosneft, in a sting operation.
The 61-year-old should also be ordered to pay a fine of 500 million rubles ($8.5 million), prosecutors said.
Ulyukayev made an effort to joke with reporters in court before the ruling.
Holding 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.”
He said he was expecting a fair hearing from the court, gesturing only to a file of documents when asked if he had brought any belongings with him.
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 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 during the trial, has calmly sat and read books by Chekhov and Kafka, as well as Plato’s Apology of Socrates.
In his closing speech last week, he asked forgiveness from Russians for ignoring the injustices of the country’s political system while in power and focusing on building his network and advancing his career.