More heads could roll in high-profile Russian graft case

MOSCOW • Russia is investigating more top officials potentially linked to the case of the former economy minister charged with taking a US$2 million (S$2.8 million) bribe, reports said yesterday, as the highest-profile corruption probe of President Vladimir Putin's rule sows alarm among the political elite.

Alexei Ulyukayev, 60, was nabbed on Monday in the act of receiving the money from state oil major Rosneft, according to investigators. He denied any wrongdoing and was ordered to be held under house arrest for two months by a Moscow court on Tuesday.

Mr Putin dismissed him from his post, citing "loss of confidence".

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and presidential economic aide Andrey Belousov are also under probe, Vedomosti newspaper reported, citing an unidentified senior law enforcement official.

Mr Dvorkovich and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov could be targeted, RBC newspaper reported, citing an official close to the leadership of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. The official RIA Novosti news service quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying up to seven more suspects could be charged in the case.

Ulyukayev is accused of extorting the bribe to approve Rosneft's US$5 billion acquisition last month of the government's controlling stake in regional producer Bashneft. His detention has raised concerns about a wider offensive by hardliners against liberals in the government as he was among a number of top officials led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that sought to block the deal championed by Rosneft boss Igor Sechin, a powerful Putin ally.

Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said "unanswered questions remain for me about the nature of the accusations, about the role of Rosneft in this".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'More heads could roll in high-profile Russian graft case'. Print Edition | Subscribe