A Russian court on Friday sentenced former economy minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, to eight years in a penal colony on charges of taking a $2m bribe from an ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Ulyukayev is the highest-ranking official arrested in Putin’s 18 years in power.
Judge Larisa Semyonova said the eight years would be served in a “harsh regime” colony. Prosecutors had sought a 10-year sentence.
Ulyukayev has denied the charges, which he has called “absurd,” saying he was entrapped by Sechin.
Before the ruling, he made an effort to appear upbeat with reporters, saying he was expecting a fair hearing and gesturing only to a briefcase of documents when asked if he had brought any belongings with him.
After being handed a bunch of white roses, he said, “I’m told that they are from a fan. The important thing is that my wife doesn’t find out.”
Previously, he said a long sentence in a harsh-regime colony, most of which are in remote locations and offer prisoners little contact with families, would effectively be a death sentence.
Ulyukayev, who became economic development minister in 2013, was arrested at Rosneft’s headquarters last year after being handed a bag containing $2m by Sechin, who had asked security forces to set up a sting.
Sechin told investigators that Ulyukayev had demanded the bribe in return for backing a controversial deal in which Rosneft acquired a stake in Bashneft, another state-run oil group.
The former minister said he believed the bag contained expensive wines that Sechin had promised him to celebrate the deal.
The prosecution did not provide any proof that Ulyukayev opened the bag of marked notes and therefore knew he was receiving a bribe.
The judge accepted the prosecutors’ allegation that the former economy minister had shown Sechin two fingers, which they claimed was code for $2m.
Sechin has not attended the court hearings despite being summoned as a witness.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused on Friday to comment on the ruling.
In his closing speech last week, Ulyukayev asked forgiveness from Russians for ignoring the injustices of the country’s political system while in power and focusing on building his network and advancing his career.
“When everything is good, you shamefully turn away from people’s grief. Forgive me for that, people,” he told the court, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.