MOSCOW/VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who was in charge of compiling Moscow’s proposals for possible economic cooperation with Japan, was fired Tuesday after being detained earlier on suspicion of receiving a $2 million bribe, local media reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had dismissed Ulyukayev after losing trust in him.
Ulyukayev’s arrest and dismissal could impact bilateral talks on economic cooperation launched after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented Russian President Vladimir Putin in May with an eight-point plan aimed at settling the territorial dispute and concluding a post-World War II peace treaty.
The two countries are negotiating the status of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido ahead of Abe’s December meeting with Putin in Japan.
“We are talking about extorting a bribe, together with threatening Rosneft. Ulyukayev was caught red-handed when receiving the money,” Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Russian Investigative Committee, as saying.
Ulyukayev is alleged to have received $2 million for a positive assessment by the Economic Development Ministry that enabled Rosneft, a state oil company, to take a 50 percent stake in Bashneft, a medium-size oil company.
Ulyukayev, who a Moscow court ruled should be put under house arrest for two months until Jan. 15, faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
Wearing a blue suit, Ulyukayev told a Moscow court he did not accept his guilt. It was in his own interests to cooperate with the investigation as he valued his reputation, he said.
Ulyukayev had presented Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, who also oversees economic cooperation, with a list of 89 projects as possible bilateral cooperation items during a meeting in Russia on Nov. 3.
Ulyukayev and Seko were planning to meet again on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this month in Peru.
“I am very surprised,” Seko told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo.
He said he hopes to “steadily” make progress on compiling economic cooperation projects.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, meanwhile, said he does not believe Ulyukayev’s detention will affect the negotiations over the territorial dispute.
On the same day in Tokyo, Japan and Russia agreed to accelerate talks over compiling around 10 economic cooperation agreements to be signed at the December meeting between Abe and Putin.
The agreement was reached during a meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues, co-chaired by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.
Tokyo hopes bilateral economic cooperation will pave the way toward settling the territorial disputes.
Prior to the meeting, Abe met with Shuvalov and made it clear that Tokyo is willing to continue talks on bilateral economic cooperation regardless of the detention of Ulyukayev.
“We intend to develop the Japan-Russia relations, including talks for concluding a peace treaty, ahead of Mr. Putin’s visit (to Japan), and make achievements acceptable to the people of the two countries,” Kishida said.
At a joint news conference after the meeting, Shuvalov said Putin and Abe will meet Saturday while in Peru to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Seko and Russian Far East development minister Alexander Galushka also took part in the committee’s 12th meeting. It was last held in September last year in Moscow.
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