MOSCOW?Russian Economy Minister Alexey Ulyukaev was detained Tuesday after law enforcement agencies accused him of accepting a bribe for a recent privatization deal.

In a statement published online, Russia's Investigative Committee alleged that Mr. Ulyukaev had accepted $2 million in exchange for giving a green light for state oil producer PAO Rosneft to buy just over 50% of a smaller producer, PAO Bashneft.

The Investigative Committee said a criminal case had been opened against Mr. Ulyukaev for bribery on a major scale, a charge that carries up to 15 years in prison. It said he was currently in detention and that a court would soon decide whether he would remain under arrest.

In comments carried by Interfax news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was aware of the arrest and had been "informed at the beginning of the operation."

"This is a very serious accusation, one which demands serious evidence," he said. "In any case, it can only be determined by the court."

A spokesman for Rosneft declined to comment on the Investigative Committee's actions, but said, "the Bashneft share was acquired in accordance with Russian law."

Some analysts and investors had criticized the deal, saying that allowing one state company to privatize another undermined Russia's privatization initiative and the investment climate more broadly. Rosneft bought the shares for 330 billion rubles ($5 billion), higher than the government's initial valuation of the company at 306 billion rubles.

Mr. Ulyukaev would be the most high-ranking acting government official to be arrested since Mr. Putin came to power in 2000. High-profile businessmen, such as oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have faced criminal charges and occasionally arrest.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Economy declined to comment.

Russian markets were slightly down on opening Tuesday, with the ruble-traded Micex index down 0.49% and the dollar-traded RTS index down 1.01%.

Corrections & Amplifications: In a statement published online, Russia's Investigative Committee alleged that Mr. Ulyukaev had accepted $2 million in exchange for giving a green light for state oil producer PAO Rosneft to buy just over 50% of a smaller producer, PAO Bashneft. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of the alleged bribe. (Nov. 15)

Write to Laura Mills at Laura.Mills@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 15, 2016 02:45 ET (07:45 GMT)

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