Russian ex-minister Ulyukayev: I am victim of 'monstrous set up'

Russian former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who was charged with accepting a bribe, is escorted by bailiffs after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev, accused of taking a $2 million bribe from Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, told a court on Thursday he was the victim of "a monstrous and cruel provocation."

State prosecutors said the bribe was given last year on Nov. 14 in exchange for Ulyukayev approving the sale of state-controlled oil company Bashneft to Rosneft.

Ulyukayev denies the charges. He says he thought the bag holding the bribe was a gift of expensive alcohol.

"A monstrous and cruel provocation was carried out against me," Ulyukayev told the court in his final statement before it hands down a verdict on Dec. 15.

"This trial has aroused public interest similar to that of a circus," he added. "The charges are absurd, the evidence is absurd, and at its base lies the cruelty and impunity of the provocateur."

Rosneft head Sechin, a witness in the trial and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has not appeared in court, citing work commitments.

Russian prosecutors earlier this month sought a sentence of 10 years in jail for Ulyukayev.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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