Russian state oil company chief Igor Sechin, who was summoned twice last week to testify in a former economy minister's extortion trial but failed to show up, says he will also skip a November 22 hearing, despite a third summons.
Sechin said on November 21 that he would not attend the hearing in Moscow because he is on a trip to the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiisk, where he is showing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev a new Rosneft mining complex.
Sechin has been summoned to testify as a witness in the trial of former Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev, who is charged with extorting a $2 million bribe from him in 2016.
His refusal to testify so far has underscored concerns about the clout and independence of the justice system in Russia, where Kremlin critics say President Vladimir Putin uses the courts as an arm of the executive branch.
On November 16, Sechin said he would report to the court to testify "when we agree on a schedule" and that his job as CEO of the state oil giant was more important than the trial.
A longtime former deputy chief of staff to Putin, Sechin is a key figure in the case against Ulyukayev, one of the highest-level officials in Russia to be arrested since the Stalin era.
Prosecutors say that Sechin handed Ulyukayev the $2 million that the then-minister allegedly extorted from him in exchange for a favorable decision on a major acquisition by Rosneft.
The case has highlighted rifts within Russia's ruling elite and could raise questions about the outcome of the trial -- an unusual development in Russia, where verdicts in politically charged cases often seem predetermined.
Ulyukayev says he is not guilty and accuses Sechin and Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of tricking him by telling him the case was full of wine.
Ulyukayev’s trial began in August. He is under house arrest.