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Former Russian Minister Ulyukayev's Verdict Upheld

Ex-Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev stands inside a glass defendants cage in a courtroom of the Moscow City Court on April 12.

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has upheld an eight-year prison term for former Russian Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev.

The Moscow City Court on April 12 ruled that Ulyukayev's sentence remains unchanged, but lifted a restriction on him holding public office after his sentence is served.

Ulyukayev maintained his innocence in the courtroom on April 12 and his lawyers said they will appeal the court's ruling.

A Moscow court on December 15 convicted Ulyukayev of taking a "large bribe," and sentenced him to eight years in a strict-regime prison.

Ulyukayev, who was fired by Putin hours after his arrest in the middle of the night in November 2016, is the highest Russian official to be arrested since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ulyukayev was found guilty of taking a $2 million in cash from the chief executive of Russia's state-run oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate.

Prosecutors said the bribe was given in exchange for Ulyukayev approving the sale of a state-controlled oil company Bashneft to Rosneft.

Police detained Ulyukayev inside Rosneft headquarters shortly after Sechin handed him the cash inside a lockable brown bag, prosecutors said.

Ulyukayev has said he thought the package contained a gift but that a trap had been set for him.

Ulyukayev is seen as a member of the liberal camp in the Russian ruling elite, while Sechin, a longtime former deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin, is perceived as a hard-liner and one of Putin's closest allies.