Former Russian Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev, who is being tried on an extortion charge, has adamantly protested his innocence and accused state oil company chief Igor Sechin of lying to investigators.
Ulyukayev was speaking at a November 27 hearing that was skipped by Rosneft CEO Sechin, who has repeatedly been summoned to testify but said he was too busy to do so.
Ulyukayev is charged with extorting $2 million from Sechin in exchange for government approval of Rosneft's acquisition of Bashneft, a regional oil company.
"I never threatened Sechin that I would deliver a negative conclusion" about the acquisition deal, Ulyukayev said in court.
"And his testimony that I threatened him bears witness to deliberately false slander against me on Sechin's part," he said, referring to alleged remarks to investigators that were leaked to media last week. A lawyer for Sechin denied that he had lied.
Prosecutors say Ulyukayev was caught red-handed in a sting operation in November 2016, with $2 million that Sechin had given him found in a locked bag in the trunk of his car. Ulyukayev says he was set up and believed the bag contained bottles of wine.
He has said the case against him was a provocation perpetrated by Sechin and his allies in the Federal Security Service (FSB).
"The bag had a lock on it, but its shape made it look like it contained bottles of wine. Sechin gave me the key," Ulyukayev said earlier according to testimony read out by the prosecutor in court on November 27.
"I took it as a friendly gesture on the part of Sechin, who gave me the expensive wine he had promised me" at a meeting during a BRICS summit in the Indian resort city of Goa in October 2016, he was quoted as saying.
Sechin, who has been summoned four times to testify at Ulyukayev's trial, skipped the November 27 hearing. He said through his lawyer that he would not be able to attend the trial before the New Year due to a tight business schedule.
Gaunt And Grim
Judge Larisa Semyonova read out a statement from Sechin's lawyer, Nikolai Klyon, saying that Sechin had nothing to add to the "truthful" statements he initially gave investigators and that therefore his absence at the trial can therefore be excused.
The oil company chief's failure to appear in court has attracted additional attention to a case that has already highlighted rifts between members of Russia's ruling elite.
Sechin is a longtime former deputy Kremlin chief of staff and is seen as one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies.
Ulyukayev is being held under house arrest and has looked gaunt and grim in his court appearances. He is one of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in Russia since the Soviet era.
With reporting by Vedomosti, Rapsinews, TASS, and Interfax