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Ulyukayev v Sechin How the former economic development minister's testimony differs from what prosecutors told the court

Meduza
Alexey Ulyukayev before he addressed Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky Court on November 27, 2017
Alexey Ulyukayev before he addressed Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky Court on November 27, 2017
Gennady Gulyayev / Kommersant

For the first time, former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev has explained how he views the events that lead investigators to charge him with soliciting a $2-million bribe from Igor Sechin for greenlighting Rosneft’s acquisition of a stake in the oil company Bashneft. Ulyukayev categorically denies the allegations that he extorted money from Sechin, saying he didn’t know what was in the package Sechin gave him at Rosneft’s Moscow office in November 2016, moments before his arrest. Meduza compares Ulyukayev’s version of events to the story presented by the prosecution.

The deal to purchase Bashneft

Ulyukayev: The former minister says he always opposed (and still opposes) the participation of any state-owned company — including Rosneft — in the privatization of Bashneft. But the deal was permitted by Russian law, Ulyukayev says, which is what he told Vladimir Putin in a report to the president. Ulyukayev says he never endorsed a government initiative to block Rosneft’s acquisition of shares in Bashneft.

The prosecution: In court, prosecutors called Andrey Baranov, the director of Rosneft’s investor relations department, who suggested that the Bashneft deal could have collapsed because of Ulyukayev, but he offered no evidence to support this claim. Sechin and the police say Ulyukayev waited until the deal was already completed before demanding the bribe.

Meeting in Goa

Ulyukayev: After Bashneft was already sold to Rosneft in October 2016, he met with Sechin in Goa, India, where they first discussed Bashneft’s privatization. Ulyukayev denies that he demanded a bribe, but says Sechin promised him “wine like he’d never tasted in his life” in exchange for a successful deal. Andrey Kostin, the head of VTB Bank, was standing nearby, but not close enough to hear their conversation.

The prosecution: Sechin claims that Ulyukayev “asked him to thank him in some way for his favorable decision” on the Bashneft deal, allegedly explaining in words and gestures that he wanted $2 million. In his testimony to police, Sechin says he promised Ulyukayev that he would “think about it.”

The arrest at Rosneft’s office

Ulyukayev: A month after the meeting in Goa, on November 14, 2016, Sechin asked Ulyukayev to visit him at Rosneft’s office in Moscow. Over the phone, Sechin apologized for the delay on “the order,” saying that it had taken extra time “to make good on the volume.” “At the end of the day, I couldn’t issue any orders to Sechin,” Ulyukayev said in court. “What he said about ‘volume’ had to do with the need to fund the deal, meaning the collection of Rosneft funds for the acquisition on its balance sheet.”

When Sechin gave him the bag in his office at Rosneft, Ulyukayev says he believed it contained the wine he’d been promised in Goa. He says he’d received such gifts from Sechin before. “Two or three times he came to me himself with these huge bags. They were enormous gifts. He gave expensive watches and miniature oil rigs. This was normal business etiquette,” Ulyukayev argued.

The prosecution: According to an expert analysis of the conversations between Sechin and Ulyukayev, the former economic development minister knew that he was invited to Rosneft’s office in November 2016 to collect his $2-million bribe, and he allegedly understood what was in the bag he accepted from Sechin.

Russian text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock