Exclusive: Arrested Russian minister wanted state to cede control over Rosneft - sources

Tue Nov 29, 2016 7:39am EST
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By Alexander Winning

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev privately argued to colleagues in government that the state should give up control over oil giant Rosneft, before he was arrested two weeks ago in a sting inside the company's offices, according to two sources.

A source familiar with Ulyukayev's thinking, speaking before Ulyukayev was arrested on bribery charges on Nov. 15, told Reuters that the minister had been promoting the idea of reducing the government's stake in Rosneft (ROSN.MM: Quote), Russia's biggest oil company, to below 50 percent.

The second source, a government official, confirmed that Ulyukayev had discussed this idea with other officials before he was detained.

"Ulyukayev was talking about that," the second source said.

Several government officials who spoke to Reuters said that there was no evidence that his arrest was motivated by anything other than a desire to tackle corruption. Reuters has uncovered no evidence that Ulyukayev's stance on state control of Rosneft was linked to his prosecution.

However, oil industry experts say any plan to reduce state control of Rosneft would have weakened the position of the company's powerful boss Igor Sechin, a confidant of Vladimir Putin blacklisted by the United States as part of the Russian president's inner circle.

Reuters sent written questions to the Kremlin and Rosneft, which provided no immediate response. Previously, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has referred questions about Ulyukayev's case to prosecutors. Roman Nesterov, the state investigator handling Ulyukayev's case, declined to answer Reuters questions. Rosneft has praised law enforcement officials for "effective and adequate" action in detaining Ulyukayev.

Ulyukayev, who was fired hours after his arrest, denies the charges against him. He was the first sitting cabinet member to be arrested in more than two decades. The Kremlin and investigators say it is a straightforward criminal bribery case with no other targets.   Continued...

File photo of then Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev who was detained by law enforcement officials on corruption charges, is escorted upon his arrival for a hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia, November 15, 2016.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev