Arrest of Russian minister sows fears of wider purge

Ulyukayev was arrested in the offices of Rosneft, whose boss, a Putin ally, has clashed with the minister.
Ulyukayev was arrested in the offices of Rosneft, whose boss, a Putin ally, has clashed with the minister.

Paper names other Moscow officials said to be under surveillance for graft

MOSCOW • The arrest of Russia's economy minister on bribery charges has sown fear across the Moscow political elite that a wider purge of other senior officials may be coming.

Several officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity described a febrile atmosphere inside government ministries following the detention of Alexei Ulyukayev, the first serving Cabinet minister to be arrested in decades.

Russia's Vedomosti newspaper, citing an unnamed senior security source, published names of other officials that it said had been under surveillance by domestic intelligence agencies looking for evidence of graft.

They included Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Representatives of Mr Dvorkovich and Mr Shuvalov did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked about further repercussions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he saw no connection between the Ulyukayev case and others in the government, and that only investigators could say if other officials were under surveillance.

The investigative committee, the state body which investigates major crimes, denied in a statement that it had other suspects in the case and said media reports about further arrests were ill-informed.

But officials say privately that they believe more arrests may be coming. One government official drew a parallel with purges of senior Communist Party figures in the former Soviet Union, which often ended with the victims shot or sent to a labour camp.

He noted that state investigators had said Ulyukayev had been under secret surveillance for a year before his detention, and said this was contributing to the wider sense of fear. "All of us now are under scrutiny," he said.

Some of his acquaintances had considered leaving the state bureaucracy, but they were fearful this would not make them immune from arrest, he said, adding: "You can't run away."

Ulyukayev has been charged with extorting US$2 million ($2.8 million) in bribes. He is under house arrest pending trial. His lawyer, Mr Timofei Gridnyev, said his client denied the charges.

The anxiety among the ruling elite, officials said privately, was fuelled in part by the circumstances of Ulyukayev's arrest, which took place inside the offices of the state oil firm Rosneft, whose boss, Mr Igor Sechin, has clashed with Ulyukayev and other top officials over policy.

They said this sent a message that the prosecution was backed by Mr Sechin, a powerful lieutenant of President Vladimir Putin, and so was likely to be pursued forcefully.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Arrest of Russian minister sows fears of wider purge'. Print Edition | Subscribe