MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s former economic development minister, the country’s highest-ranking official to be jailed in nearly two decades, has been granted parole after serving more than half of an eight-year sentence on a bribery conviction, Russian officials confirmed Friday.
Alexei Ulyukayev filed a petition for early release after serving more than five years. A court in the Tver region, some 140 kilometers northwest of Moscow, granted him parole on Wednesday, court officials told the Interfax news agency.
Ulyukayev may be released from prison as soon as mid-May, the officials said, if no appeal against the parole ruling is filed.
The former minister was detained in 2016 at the headquarters of Russia’s largest oil producer, state-owned Rosneft, after a sting operation by Russia’s main intelligence agency. Prosecutors say he accepted a $2 million bribe from Rosneft’s influential CEO, Igor Sechin, for giving the company the green light to privatize another oil firm.
The circumstances of the case sparked speculation that Ulyukayev was caught in a Kremlin power play involving Sechin, a longtime associate of President Vladimir Putin.
Ulyukaev went to Sechin’s office in November 2016 to discuss Rosneft’s affairs, and was arrested as he was leaving the building with a bag full of cash that Sechin had given him. Ulyukayev told the court that he thought the bag contained a bottle of wine and a basket filled with sausages.
In tapes played in court during the trial, Sechin was heard telling Ulyukayev to take the bag with the sausage. Russian media reported that Sechin has a tradition of gifting people baskets of sausages from his own butcher’s shop.
Shortly after the arrest, Ulyukaev was dismissed from his post. He has maintained his innocence throughout the trial and insisted Sechin had set him up.