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The Daily Vertical: An Unusually Unpredictable Trial (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

There's something very interesting going on in Russia right now.

A Moscow court is hearing a highly politicized corruption case in which the verdict does not appear to be preordained.

Former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev is on trial for allegedly extorting a $2 million bribe from Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin in exchange for approving Rosneft's acquisition of a majority stake in the oil company Bashneft.

Ulyukayev claims he was framed by Sechin and wants to face him in court.

Sechin has twice -- yesterday and today -- ignored subpoenas to testify.

And last night, recordings of conversations between the two men -- recordings that appear to exonerate Ulyukayev -- were leaked to the media.

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Now Sechin, of course, is not your run-of-the-mill oil executive.

His ties to Vladimir Putin go back decades and he is widely considered to be one of the most powerful men in Russia.

But his aggressive acquisition of energy assets, and the political power that goes with them, has unnerved others in the Russian ruling elite.

And last night's leak suggests that somebody is trying to push back.

According to a report earlier this week by the veteran Russian journalist Mikhail Osokin, Sechin is in conflict with powerful businessmen close to Putin, including Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko.

Now, if this is true, the trial of Ulyukayev, who is the first sitting minister arrested in Russia since the 1950s, is at the epicenter of a high-stakes battle among Putin's closest cronies.

And since the only court in Russia that matters is the court of Putin, we have something truly unusual -- an unpredictable verdict in a highly politicized trial.

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