Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Alexei Ulyukayev, former economic minister in Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Friday for accepting a $2 million bribe.
While Ulyukayev expected a guilty verdict in his trial, the severe penalty was a surprise. Judge Larisa Semenova took over two hours to read the conviction and sentence, her hands and voice shaking at times, the British news website the Independent reported. The sentence includes a $2.2 million fine.
Ulyukayev was the first cabinet-level official to be arrested since the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. He was convicted of accepting a bag of money in 2016 from Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and chief of Rosneft, the oil company largely owned by the Russian government. Ulyukayev said in court that he thought the bag would contain a gift of wine and not cash.
The bribe was for the ministry's support of a positive assessment allowing Rosneft to purchase Bashneft, another major Russian oil company, Russia Today reported on Friday.
Although Sechin provided written evidence to the court, an unusual move, he refused to appear in court for cross-examination. The defense argued that by not appearing in court, Sechin violated due process. Critics of the case say Sechin put himself above the law by not testifying, Russia Today reported. Putin recently dodged the issue in a weekly interview session.
In court, Ulyukayev's team said the handover of money constituted entrapment, since he was unaware the bag contained cash.
The corruption case has shaken Russia's political elite. Confidential court records were regularly leaked to the press after the arrest. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the bribe, and the court proceedings, were "beyond his comprehension," by Putin was clearly aware of the sting operation, the independent reported.
Prosecutors sought a 10-year sentence.