Former government minister Alexei Ulyukayev is accused of taking a $2 million bribe from close Putin ally Igor Sechin. But Sechin has refused to appear in court for cross-examination by defense attornies.
Russian prosecutors on Monday called on a court to hand down a harsh, 10-year sentence to a former economy minister they accuse of accepting a $2 million (€1.69 million, 117.7 ruble) bribe from one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies.
Alexei Ulyukayev, 61, was still the economic development minister when he was arrested last year at the headquarters of the state-owned company Rosneft, Russia's largest oil producer. He was snared in a sting operation by the FSB security service, Russia's main intelligence agency.
It accuses Ulyukayev of extorting a bribe from Rosneft's powerful chief executive, Igor Sechin, but Ulyukayev claims he was set up by Putin's pal.
Ulyukayev is the highest-ranking Russian official to be arrested during the 17 years of Putin's political dominance. The circumstances surrounding the case have raised speculation that Ulyukayev has fallen victim to a Kremlin power play orchestrated by Sechin.
During cross-examination Monday, prosecutor Boris Neporozhny urged the court to sentence Ulyukayev to 10 years in a "harsh regime" penal colony and fine him 500 million rubles ($8.5 million or €7.2 million).
The prosecutor justified the tough sentence by saying Ulyukayev's actions "are undermining the authority of the government."
"I ask you to find Alexei Ulyukayev guilty," Neporozhny told the court.
A dubious case
Ulyukayev maintained his innocence on Monday and told the court he would ask investigators to open a criminal investigation against Sechin for allegedly giving false testimony. Defense lawyers have tried four times to bring Sechin into court for cross-examination, but he has ducked each order, claiming he was too busy running his company to appear.
Ulyukayev, here in late 2016, has lost a lot of weight over the past year, as evidenced by the photo at top, taken in August
The court rejected the defense's fifth and final plea last week for Sechin to be ordered to appear in court, even though his initial testimony was the cornerstone of the case.
Ulyukayev's defense team argued that without Sechin's testimony, there is not enough evidence for a conviction, and have called for their client to be released.
The trial has gone on for many months and has, at times, risked becoming a major humiliation for Sechin. He has slammed the prosecution for making some of his conversations public during the trial, saying they contained sensitive information.
There is a growing sense among observers that the ongoing trial has failed to meet Sechin's expectations and has damaged his reputation in the process.
Observers say a tough sentence against Ulyukayev would play well with voters ahead of next year's presidential election because corruption is a major concern for regular Russians.
bik/tj (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)