Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev has been detained over a $2-million bribe allegedly received for a "positive" assessment, which led to oil producer Rosneft acquiring a 50 percent stake in Bashneft, the country's Investigative Committee said on Tuesday.
He is the highest-ranked statesman in Russia arrested since the failed coup in 1991. The Investigative Committee, which directly reports to President Vladimir Putin, said the investigation would put forward charges soon.
"Ulyukayev was detained at night, immediately after interrogation," an Investigative Committee official told Reuters.
It was not immediately clear, what exactly Ulyukayev, who has overseen massive government privatization, has been accused of, but Russian news outlet RT reported that the minister had been detained in the act of taking the bribe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS news agency that "this is a serious accusation". "In any case, only a court is able to decide anything," he was quoted as saying. RT reported that Peskov said he did not know if Putin was aware of the minister's detention.
According to RT, if found guilty, Ulyukayev could face a fine up to 100 times the size of the bribe plus the loss of the right to serve in some state positions and undertake certain activities for up to 15 years. A prison sentence of as long as 15 years and a fine that was 70 times the size of the bribe were other potential outcomes following a guilty verdict, RT said.
Kremlin-controlled Rosneft bought 50 percent of Bashneft for 330 billion roubles ($5 billion) in October.
- CNBC contributed to this report.