MOSCOW (AP) — The lawyer for the most senior Russian official to face charges in two decades said on Monday that his client was illegally detained while leaving the office of state-owned oil company Rosneft and held by a security agency for six hours.
Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was detained on Nov. 14 after he allegedly accepted a $2 million bribe from state oil company Rosneft in a sting set up by the FSB domestic security agency. The investigators did not reveal the details of the operation, fueling speculation that Ulyukayev was set up.
Ulyukayev's lawyer Timofei Gridnev told the Moscow City Court on Monday that the FSB stopped Ulyukayev's car as he was leaving Rosneft's headquarters, took his phone and kept him in de facto custody for six hours until 11:30 p.m. when he was officially named as a suspect.
"Ulyukayev was detained, which means (he was supposed to be) taken to investigators or the police but the FSB officers ignored the rules," he said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
President Vladimir Putin dismissed the minister the day after he was arrested.
The Ulyukayev case has been widely seen as part of Putin's ongoing effort to preserve the balance between rival factions in the upper echelons of power in Russia.
The Russian investigators said Ulyukayev accepted the money for having given the green light to Rosneft to take part in bidding for another oil company. Critics, however, questioned why the payment was made a month after Rosneft completed the deal, why it was paid in cash and why the experienced Ulyukayev would be foolish enough to extort money from the super-powerful Rosneft which is led by Putin's close ally.
Ulyukayev, the highest-ranking Russian official to have been arrested since 1993, was formally charged with extorting a bribe from Rosneft and threatening "to use his powers to put obstacles in the way of the company's activities." He was placed under house arrest and has not appeared in public since Nov. 15.
Gridnev told the court on Monday that Ulyukayev wants to talk to the press "to tell the public about his side of the story" but the court rejected the motion and extended the house arrest for Ulyukayev until Jan. 15.