In Russia, Spotlight Falls on Oil Boss
By James Marson
MOSCOW -- The corruption trial of a former Russian economy minister is casting a spotlight on a Kremlin power struggle and the clout of the country's top oil boss.
The trial revolves around a November meeting between Igor Sechin, who heads a state-controlled oil giant, and the then-minister, Alexey Ulyukayev, at the firm's Moscow headquarters. Mr. Sechin, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea, has in recent years turned the firm into a global powerhouse.
At the meeting, Mr. Sechin gave Mr. Ulyukayev a basket of sausages -- a typical gift from Mr. Sechin, often made from the meat of animals he has hunted, former employees have said -- and a lockable bag, according to transcripts of covert recordings read out in court by prosecutors and published by Russian news outlets.
"You may consider the mission accomplished," Mr. Sechin said, according to the transcripts. "There you go: Take it, put it away, and let's go and drink tea."
As Mr. Ulyukayev prepared to drive away, agents from Russia's Federal Security Service swooped in and found that the bag contained $2 million in cash, prosecutors have said. Mr. Ulyukayev told investigators he thought the bag contained wine, according to court documents.
When the trial opened in mid-August, Mr. Ulyukayev pleaded not guilty and said Mr. Sechin had framed him. Mr. Sechin told state television Mr. Ulyukayev had "demanded an illegal payoff for his regular work," and added, "That's a crime."
Mr. Sechin didn't respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Ulyukayev didn't respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Sechin, 57, is a veteran of Russia's security services who has worked with President Vladimir Putin since the 1990s. Mr. Sechin has enhanced his power in recent years as PAO Rosneft, the company he runs, has taken over smaller oil companies. The Russian state owns half of Rosneft, which accounts for around 40% of Russia's total crude production.