Russia’s ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev has been found guilty of accepting a bribe, a Moscow judge announced on Friday morning. 

Judge Larisa Semenova began reading her verdict at 11.30am local time — aloud in mantra, as is customary in Russia. It may take several hours to come to the full conclusion and understand whether the former cabinet minister will receive a custodial sentence. 

Mr Ulyukayev was responsible for the Russian economy until he was arrested in a sting operation on the night of 15 November 2016, becoming the first cabinet minister to be arrested since the 1950s. His downfall was orchestrated by Rosneft chief Igor Sechin, a powerful associate of Vladimir Putin, who handed the minister a bag containing $2m.

Mr Ulyukayev insists he understood the bag contained fine wine, and in court repeatedly challenged Mr Sechin to appear for cross-examination. On four occasions, the Rosneft chief refused.

The judge mumbled nervously while reading the verdict, outlining the circumstances of the crime. In almost every detail, she sided with the prosecution. On 5 October, at a conference in Goa, Mr Ulyukayev demanded a $2m bribe from Mr Sechin, she said. He repeated the demand in a telephone conversation on 14 November. This did not seem consistent with recordings or transcripts leaked to BBC Russia.

Last week, prosecutors demanded a harsh 10 year sentence in a prison colony. Mr Ulyukayev, 62, likened this to a “death sentence.” 

In his final statement, he insisted on his innocence and compared his case to Stalinist show trials. “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls,” he said. “It tolls for you.”


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