Jailed former economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev will be released from prison early, a court in Tver ruled on April 28.
Ulyukayev was the first government minister to be arrested after being caught red-handed emerging from a meeting with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin with a bag full of cash.
Sechin accused the minister of extorting a bribe to grant government permission for an acquisition. Federal Security Service (FSB) officers were waiting for Ulyukayev as he emerged from the meeting in November 2016 and arrested him.
The most salacious part of the case was the recording of the conversation between Sechin and Ulyukayev that was presented as evidence against him, where the two men were heard to talk about a basket of “sausages” – the bag of money. Nowhere on those tapes are either Bashneft or Rosneft mentioned by name.
A second tape was recorded in Rosneft’s office, and it starts with Sechin asking his assistant to bring tea and “a basket with sausages” into the room. Sechin is a hunter, and he makes his own sausage products with deer meat at his own private factory. Vedomosti reported that Sechin frequently presents a basket of 16 different kinds of home-made sausages as a gift to his business partners
At the end of the conversation the two men can be heard putting on their coats. Ulyukayev asks, “And the basket?” Sechin replies, “Yes, take the basket,” and the two leave. Ulyukayev was arrested shortly afterwards by the FSB as he got into a waiting car.
The next day he was placed under house arrest in his apartment on Minskaya Street in Moscow and fired from his job as minister by President Vladimir Putin.
At his trial Ulyukayev testified that he thought the bag Sechin gave him contained wine and sausages, and accused Rosneft’s CEO and the head of security of entrapment.
On December 15, 2017, the Zamoskvoretsky Court of Moscow sentenced Ulyukayev to eight years in a strict regime colony and a fine of more than RUB130mn, finding him guilty of accepting a $2mn bribe from Sechin. The ex-Minister has been serving his sentence in correctional colony No. 1 near Tver.
Ulyukayev’s arrest caused a scandal at the time, but he was generally regarded as one of the Kremlin’s liberal ministers and a competent pair of hands. Speculation at the time suggested that Ulyukayev had been set up by Sechin as part of an elite power game. Rosneft was seeking government permission to buy a state-owned stake in oil company Bashneft at the time, but Sechin was facing resistance to the deal by several senior members of the government.
“The explanation for his arrest is questionable, as Bashneft was sold at the market price and the decision on privatisation was taken by the government," Alfa Bank commented at the time.
The government resisted the participation of state-controlled Rosneft in the privatisation of Bashneft as "passing the same [state] money around", one unnamed official described the proposed deal at the time. But Rosneft quickly become the only bidder for the lucrative asset and had the rules bent to allow the deal, not without Ulyukayev’s assistance, according to some accounts. Ulyukayev is said to have signed off on the evaluation of the 50% stake in Bashneft before its controversial sale to Rosneft.
Unnamed sources close to Kremlin told Gazeta.ru at the time that Russian President Vladimir Putin had approved the “design of the case” and arrest of Ulyukayev, who had been headed his ministry since June 2013.
The case against the minister was reportedly initiated and supervised by the head of Rosneft’s security department, Oleg Feoktistov, who moved to the energy company in August from the FSB domestic intelligence agency.
Feoktistov’s team was reportedly driving on the case at Sechin’s demand, while developing cases against a handful of other notable officials involved in the economy, such as Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and presidential advisor Andrei Belousov. Both had both vocally opposed Rosneft’s takeover of Bashneft.
Sechin is a close personal friend of President Putin from his St Petersburg days and previously worked for Putin as an assistant at the start of Putin’s career in the administration of St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak in the early 1990s.
The court this week granted Ulyukayev’s request for early parole, Interfax reports.
"The issue of early release of Ulyukayev was resolved on April 27, but until the entry into force of the decision, he will remain in the colony," a source told Interfax.
According to the source, the prosecutor's office and the administration of the colony "were not against the release of the minister on parole, they noted his good behaviour.”
Ulyukayev is expected to be release after the May Day holidays and will be allowed to leave the country if he so chooses. Interfax reported that it has no official confirmation of this information.