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Rosneft Chief Sechin A No-Show -- Again -- At Russian Minister's Trial


Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev (left) and Rosneft chief Igor Sechin speak at a meeting in September 2016.

The chief of state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has for a second time failed to report to a Moscow court to testify in a high-profile extortion trial.

Sechin, who is seen as a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, did not show up on November 15 at Zamoskvoretsky district court, where he had been summoned to testify as a witness in the trial of former Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev.

Judge Larisa Semyonova had ordered the second summons to be issued on November 13, when Sechin failed to appear after an initial summons.

Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said on November 15 that Sechin was on a business trip, the Interfax news agency reported.

A longtime former deputy chief of staff to Putin, Sechin is a key figure in the case: Prosecutors say that he handed Ulyukayev the $2 milllion that the then-minister allegedly extorted from him in exchange for a favorable decision on a major acquisition by Rosneft.

The oil company chief's failure to appear in court so far has attracted additional attention to a case that has already thrown rifts in Putin's ruling elite into sharp relief.

It could raise questions about the outcome of the trial -- an unusual development in Russia, where rights groups say courts are beholden to the Kremlin and the verdict in politically charged cases often seems obvious in advance.

'Health Problems'

Ulyukayev, who is being held under house arrest and has looked gaunt and grim in court appearances, is one of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in Russia since the Soviet era.

He is accused of extorting the bribe from Sechin in exchange for his ministry's approval for Rosneft to acquire a majority stake in the regional oil company Bashneft.

Prosecutors say Ulyukayev, 61, was caught taking a case full of money from Sechin at Rosneft headquarters in a sting operation.

Ulyukayev’s trial began in August. He says he is not guilty and accuses Sechin and the Federal Security Service (FSB) of tricking him by telling him the case was full of wine.

Putin fired Ulyukayev shortly after he was detained in November 2016.

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Ukyukaev is suffering health problems including "a suspected eye retina rupture, cataract, severe headaches and dizziness, and critical weight loss," one of his lawyers, Larisa Kashtanova, said in court.

Defense lawyers asked the court to let him visit a medical establishment on November 17 for diagnostic procedures and dental treatment.

The judge, Semyonova, said at the hearing that the second summons had been sent to Sechin by fax, regular mail, and e-mail.

She said the document sent by post might be still on its way, while the e-mail had been read by a recipient but it was not clear whether Sechin opened it himself.

Semyonova ordered court offices to summon Sechin a third time, for a hearing scheduled on November 22.

Rosneft spokesman Leontyev declined to comment on whether Sechin would attend, saying that "information about the work schedule of the Rosneft chief executive officer is not public," Interfax reported.

Ahead of the hearing on November 13, Leontyev said that Sechin had not received the first summons, and Semyonova said company employees had refused to accept it when it was delivered to Rosneft's headquarters in Moscow.

Later that day Sechin attended meetings in the southern Russian city of Sochi, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Putin.

Ulyukayev told reporters in court on November 15 that he has read "probably about 50 books" since he was placed under house arrest, Interfax reported.

He said he was also writing his own book "about the good life."

With reporting by Interfax, Meduza, and Rapsinews
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