Russian economy minister officially charged with bribery

Nov 15 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for painstaking investigation over detention of Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, Russian news agencies said on Tuesday.

Russia's Economy minister has been arrested on corruption charges, the most senior official ever detained under president Vladimir Putin, startling a country that rarely sees top functionaries punished despite rampant allegations of government misconduct.

The Investigative Committee alleged that Mr. Ulyukaev had accepted the bribe in exchange for giving a green light for state oil producer PAO Rosneft to buy just over 50% of a smaller producer, PAO Bashneft.

The economic development ministry's approval was necessary to allow Rosneft to bid in the tender for Bashneft but it was just one of several government approvals required to hold the tender and sell the company to Rosneft.

"A person of that level has never been arrested here on suspicion of a criminal offence", she said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appointed Deputy Economy Minister Yevgeny Yelin as acting economy minister after Ulyukayev's arrest, a spokeswoman for the prime minister's office said later on Tuesday.

The Investigative Court asked the court to impose a measure of restraint for Ulyukayev.

Unlike in other publicized corruption investigations, state television didn't show footage of Ulyukayev allegedly caught red-handed receiving a bribe or handcuffed and led into custody.

Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said "unanswered questions remain for me about the nature of the accusations, about the role of Rosneft in this".

Investigators opened a criminal case in April linked to deals with Bashneft shares in 2002 to 2009. Both oil companies are state-owned, and the privatization of Bashneft filled a budget hole, due to lower earnings from energy resources.In July, Ulyukayev opposed the deal, saying state-owned company Rosneft should not participate in the takeover. "And a verdict regarding the consistency of these charges can only be rendered by a court".

As minister of economic development, Ulyukayev was tasked with pulling Russian Federation out of the protracted economic crisis sparked in late 2014 by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine. One state company helping another conduct a privatisation is likely to be disputed among some members of the government. The sale to Rosneft was finally agreed upon on October 10 when Medvedev sealed the deal - a month before Ulyukayev received the alleged bribe.

"You have to be mad to threaten Rosneft", Mr Shokhin said. Petrenko added that the extortion of the bribe was accompanied by threats against Rosneft representatives.

Ulyukayev has been in his post since 2013 and is close to Andrei Kostin, the influential head of Russia's second-biggest lender, state-owned VTB, and chairs the firm's supervisory board.

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