A video allegedly showing the moment Russia’s former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev accepted a payoff from an oil company executive was played in court during the ex-government official’s bribery trial.
The video displayed on October 12 in Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky district court shows Ulyukayev taking a bag left by Igor Sechin, the powerful chief of state-owned oil giant Rosneft, in the yard of the energy company’s office.
Investigators say the bag was later found in the trunk of Ulyukayev’s car and contained $2 million in cash.
Prosecutors allege the money was a bribe Ulyukayev demanded from Sechin in exchange for his ministry’s approval of Rosneft’s bid to acquire a majority stake in regional oil company Bashneft.
Ulyukayev has denied the charges, telling the court in August that the bribery accusation against him was fabricated, and he accused Sechin and the Federal Security Service (FSB) of setting him up in a “provocation.”
Ulyukayev’s lawyer, Daredzhan Kveidze, told reporters outside the court on October 12 that her client believed he was receiving a gift containing a bag of wine, not a bribe.
“Nowhere in the recordings is Ulyukayev taking money. He was sure that the bag contained wine because Igor Sechin had promised to treat him to wine like he’d never tried before,” Kveidze said.
Kveidze also argued the video and audio recordings played in the court were of such poor quality that they should not be allowed to be entered into evidence.
The Interfax news agency reported that Ulyukayev, 61, was yawning and looking away from the screen when the video was shown.
When asked outside the court about the video, Ulyukayev told reporters that “I enjoyed it a lot.”
Ulyukayev is one of the highest officials to be arrested in Russia since the Soviet era. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
He was fired by President Vladimir Putin shortly after he was detained in November 2016 and has been held under house arrest ever since.
For many close observers of Russian politics, the court case has shed light on the internal rivalries of some of the clans within the Kremlin and the Russian government as a whole.
Sechin, who used to be a top official with the FSB, is widely known as a “siloviki” representing the country’s security and military agencies, many of whose members have assumed prominent positions in important companies and industries, as well as government structures.
Ulyukayev, meanwhile, is considered to be a relative liberal or reformer, working to help modernize Russia’s sluggish economy. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is widely seen as the figurehead of that power grouping.
With reporting by Interfax, TASS, Reuters, and Bloomberg