MOSCOW • Russia's Investigative Committee, the country's main federal investigative body, has detained Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev on suspicion of taking a US$2 million (S$2.8 million) bribe over a massive deal involving state- controlled oil giant Rosneft.
The committee yesterday said the detention was the result of an operation by the FSB security service, successor to the KGB. It claimed the minister received the money on Monday for giving Rosneft the go-ahead to acquire a majority stake from the state in Russian oil company Bashneft in a US$5.2 billion deal last month. It did not say who gave the bribe.
The sale of the 50.07 per cent stake in Russia's sixth-largest producer came after months of wrangling that has seen Rosneft - headed by Mr Igor Sechin, a powerful ally of President Vladimir Putin - face down opposition from some in the government.
Mr Ulyukayev had originally opposed the sale but later endorsed it after Mr Putin said it could help fill the state's coffers.
The Investigative Committee said Mr Ulyukayev's detention is part of an investigation into large-scale bribe-taking, for which he could face a jail term of between eight and 15 years. It said that it will charge him soon.
Spokesman Svetlana Petrenko told RIA Novosti news agency: "This is about extortion of a bribe from Rosneft representatives accompanied by threats.
"Ulyukayev was caught red-handed as he received a bribe."
She said "the acquisition of the Bashneft shares was carried out on a legal basis and is not the subject of the criminal investigation" .
Mr Ulyukayev, who has served as head of the Ministry of Economic Development since 2013, was tasked with pulling Russia out of the longest economic crisis since Mr Putin took power 16 years ago.
The crisis was sparked in late 2014 by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
RIA Novosti cited a law enforcement source as saying Mr Ulyukayev was held as part of a "sting operation" after investigators received "serious evidence" from "tapping his conversations and the conversations of his associates".
A spokesman for Rosneft told Tass state news agency the company would not comment.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency: "This is a very serious accusation that requires very serious proof. In any case, only a court can decide."
He said Mr Putin had been informed of the sting operation that led to Mr Ulyukayev's detention.
Mr Putin's critics insist that he has turned a blind eye to widespread corruption as his close allies amass vast fortunes during his time in power.