Ukraine arrests French-Israeli wanted in ‘fake CEO’ scam

A huckster sentenced for tricking dozens of French banks and businesses into handing over millions of euros has been arrested in Ukraine after a hunt lasting more than two years.

French judicial sources and a lawyer for Gilbert Chikli, a 51-year-old Frenchman, said an extradition hearing would be held on Sunday after he was detained along with a French-Israeli man on Friday.

His arrest was initially reported by the French news weekly Le Point.

Chikli is the alleged mastermind of a scheme that saw some of France’s top companies get embarrassingly fleeced.

He would contact banks and firms posing as either their CEO or a secret service agent and instruct them to hand over large sums, often in the guise of an operation against money laundering.

Thirty-three banks and businesses were targeted between 2005 and 2006, including consulting group Accenture, the Post Office Bank, HSBC, aerospace firm Dassault, electricity and rail giant Alstom and the chic Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette.

Gilbert Chikli giving an interview in Israel at his Ashdod home, December 29, 2015. (Courtesy of i24 News/ via JTA)

He managed to swindle a total of 60.5 million euros ($71.15 million), 52.6 million euros of which was later recovered.

At his trial, a former director of the Credit Lyonnais bank — now known as LCL — gave the court a rundown of Chikli’s scheme that convinced her to hand a million euros to a stranger in the toilet of a Parisian bar.

Chikli spent several months in custody before fleeing to Israel in 2009, where he has been living openly. It is not immediately clear why he was in Ukraine.

Interviewed by French television in 2010, Chikli said he was intrigued by the “game” of scamming.

“You’ve either got the gift or you don’t, it’s like famous actors. When it comes to me, you can say that I have a gift,” he said.

In 2015, he was sentenced in absentia to seven years’ jail and a fine of a million euros. The court also ordered him to pay 5.5 million euros in damages and interest to his victims.

“We have always given our agreement that the rest of his sentence be served in Israel,” Chikli’s lawyer, David-Olivier Kaminski, said on Saturday.

Two accomplices were sentenced to four years in jail and fines of 50,000 euros.

His story inspired a 2015 film, “Je Compte Sur Vous” (I’m Counting on You), with French actor Vincent Elbaz in the starring role.




Five Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority security forces in what a human rights monitoring group has termed a “serious blow to freedom of opinion and expression.”

All five were arrested at or near their homes on Tuesday night by the General Intelligence Service, according to Shireen al-Khatib, monitoring and documentation associate at the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (Mada).

A senior security source quoted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said four journalists were being held on suspicion of “leaking sensitive information to hostile authorities.” The source said an investigation was under way.

Khatib identified the journalists as Tariq Abu Zayd and Ahmad Halaika of Al-Aksa television, a Hamas-run station, Qutaiba Kasem who writes for the Asdaa website, Mamdouh Hamamreh of the pro-Hamas al-Quds television and Amer Abu Arafa of the Shehab news agency. The Wafa report mentioned all the journalists except for Halaika.

Abu Arafa was arrested after his home was searched and his computer and mobile phone seized, Khatib said.

A West Bank journalist who requested anonymity said “this is not the first time journalists are being arrested but it is the first time five are arrested in one night.”

In the view of the journalist who spoke with The Jerusalem Post the arrests might be aimed at pressuring Hamas to release Fouad Jaradah, a reporter for the PA’s Palestine TV, who was arrested in Gaza on June 8 and was later accused of collaborating with the authority.

“Journalists are paying the price of the Fatah- Hamas conflict,” the West Bank journalist said.

Of the accusation that the five journalists arrested on Tuesday had leaked sensitive information, he said: “No one believes that.”

The Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights, which monitors rights abuses in the PA, demanded the immediate release of the journalists and called on the authority to “stop the persecution of journalists for their journalistic work.” It termed the arrests a “serious blow to freedom of opinion and expression.”

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights termed the arrests a “dangerous development.”

In a statement it criticized both the PA and the Hamas government.

“PCHR follows up with concern the measures taken by the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and warns of the arbitrary use of legal texts or fabricating charges to beat their political rivals. This results in serious consequences on the legal system, rights and freedoms in general.

“PCHR calls for releasing the six journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the validity of the charges against them will be proven in accordance with proper and transparent procedures.”

The human rights group al-Haq, which is also based in Ramallah, said the arrests “come in the wake of a dangerous regression in the condition of rights and liberties in the West Bank and Gaza, especially freedom of opinion and expression and journalistic work.” It said that authorities had blocked journalists from covering peaceful gatherings.

PA government spokesman Yusuf Mahmoud said he could not comment on the arrests since they were under the purview of the security apparatus. But he took issue with the criticism that the PA was harming freedom of expression.

“The authority in all manners respects freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” he said. “This is guaranteed in the agreements signed by the national authority and in the law.

The authority adheres to the freedom of journalists and citizens and greatly respects that.”

In June, the PA blocked access to 11 websites that back Hamas or Muhammad Dahlan, a bitter rival of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kuwait arrests 12 over ties to Iran, Hezbollah

KUWAIT CITY — Kuwaiti authorities on Saturday arrested 12 convicted members of a “terrorist cell” with ties to Iran and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah after a weeks-long manhunt.

The interior ministry said the 12 had been captured in different areas across Kuwait. They had been on the run since their sentencing last month, while two other convicted Kuwaitis remained at large.

The supreme court in Sunni-ruled Kuwait, which has a sizeable Shiite minority, in June overturned an acquittal by an appeals court and convicted 21 Shiites of forming a “terrorist cell” with ties to Iran and Hezbollah.

The cell had planned to launch attacks across the Gulf state, according to the court verdict.

Kuwait has protested to Lebanon over the alleged training of the so-called “Abdali Cell” by Hezbollah, which has ministers in the Beirut government.

Last month, authorities expelled 15 Iranian diplomats and shut down the military, cultural and trade missions of the Iranian embassy over Tehran’s backing of the “terrorist cell.”

Iran said the allegation is baseless.

Shiites account for around a third of Kuwait’s native population of 1.35 million.

FBI arrests US soldier over plot to provide IS with drone, army documents

HONOLULU — An active duty Army soldier has been arrested by the FBI in Hawaii on terrorism charges after he allegedly attempted to provide classified documents and a drone to the Islamic State group and pledged allegiance to it, officials said Monday.

A criminal complaint filed by the FBI said Ikaika Kang attempted to provide classified and unclassified military documents and a drone to the organization to use against American forces. It said Kang also tried to teach the group combat techniques and indicated he wanted to use his rifle to “kill a bunch of people.”

Those are the allegations made in an affidavit FBI Special Agent Jimmy Chen supporting charges made against Kang.

The 26-page affidavit alleges Kang copied secret military documents in 2015 and attempted to provide them to Islamic State through undercover FBI agents. The affidavit says he also made combat training videos for the organization’s soldiers, and he made his pledge to the terrorist group in English and repeated it in Arabic.

FBI spokesman Arnold Laanui said SWAT team special agents arrested the 34-year-old on Saturday.

Kang, a sergeant first class, made his first appearance in federal court on Monday on terrorism charges. He will face a detention hearing Thursday.

His military service record said Kang was an air traffic control operator at Wheeler Army Airfield.

Birney Bervar, Kang’s appointed attorney, said he still doesn’t know much about the case. He said he only talked to Kang for a few minutes.

Kang enlisted in the Army in December 2001, just months after the Sept. 11 attacks. He served in Iraq from March 2010 to February 2011 and Afghanistan from July 2013 to April 2014.

Kang was assigned to the headquarters of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Immigration arrests soar under Trump; sharpest spike seen for noncriminals


Days after Trump took office, he issued an executive order that made clear that anyone in the United States illegally could be deported and ended former president Barack Obama’s policy of frequently granting reprieves from deportation to undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records or U.S.-born children.

Acting ICE director Thomas Homan said the statistics released Wednesday show that agents still prioritize lawbreakers: 30,473 criminals were arrested from Jan. 22 to April 29, an 18 percent increase from the same period in 2016.

Meanwhile, arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to nearly 11,000, the fastest-growing category by far.

“Will the number of noncriminal arrests and removals increase this year? Absolutely,” Homan said. “That’s enforcing the laws that are on the books.”

What is less clear is what is happening to the immigrants who are being taken into custody.

Overall, deportations have fallen about 12 percent this year, to about 56,315 people, which Homan attributed to a severe backlog in federal immigration courts. He also said it can take longer to deport criminals than those without criminal records, because those in the former category may have additional court proceedings. The Trump administration has called for additional immigration judges and detention space to speed deportations.

Homan did not say how many of the 41,318 people whose arrests were announced Wednesday have been deported, remain in custody or have been released.

Unlike criminal arrests, records of immigration arrests — which are considered civil violations — are not publicly accessible.

The secrecy allows immigration officials to pick and choose which examples of their work to highlight. On Wednesday, they said the immigrants arrested since Trump’s executive order include Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, an alleged MS-13 gang member from El Salvador captured in New York in February; Juan Antonio Melchor Molina, a fugitive wanted for a 2008 murder in Mexico who was arrested last month in Dallas; and William Magana-Contreras, another reputed MS-13 member arrested in Houston last month. Magana-Contreras is wanted for aggravated homicide in El Salvador, officials said.

Some advocates questioned whether ICE is truly prioritizing the most serious criminals.

Parastoo Zahedi, an immigration lawyer in Virginia, said ICE is actively trying to deport one of her clients to Italy because of a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana. He has lived in the United States nearly all his life.

“It’s not criminal aliens,” Zahedi said. “It’s anyone that they can catch.”

Ava Benach, a D.C. immigration lawyer, said ICE agents are “empowered, emboldened and . . . eager to enforce the law aggressively.”

Advocates also questioned the wisdom of arresting thousands more immigrants — especially those who pose no known public safety threat — when immigration courts are severely backlogged. But Homan said that is the agency’s job.

“When a federal judge makes a decision and issues [a deportation] order, that order needs to mean something,” he said. “If we don’t take action on those orders, then we’re just spinning our wheels, aren’t we?”

Obama also sharply increased deportations during parts of his tenure, expelling about 400,000 deportees a year during his first six years in office. At the same time, he lobbied Congress to create a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living here.

In his last two years in office, Obama curtailed deportations somewhat and emphasized that ICE should try to spare law-abiding residents and those with U.S.-born children.

Under Trump, many of those limits are gone — with the exception of a program that protected undocumented immigrants who came to America as children.

“Given the collapse in enforcement in the last few years of the Obama administration, it’s a long-overdue increase,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has pushed for stricter adherence to immigration laws. “It’s one data point, obviously, but it’s welcome news.”

Houston, Los Angeles and other cities have pushed back against Trump’s crackdown, blaming it for sharp decreases in reports of sexual assaults and other crimes among Latinos, who officials say are increasingly afraid to go to the police.

But Homan said ICE is like any other law-enforcement agency. He expressed frustration with jurisdictions that refuse to hold immigrants in local jails and courthouses until deportation agents can take them into custody.

“The men and women of ICE are law-enforcement officers sworn to enforce the law,” he said. “And that’s what we’re going to do, and we’re not going to apologize for it.”

Iran MPs criticize social media arrests ahead of elections

Iranian MPs have criticized the arrests of journalists and social media organizers ahead of the presidential election in May, with one directly accusing the elite Revolutionary Guards in a letter published Saturday.

The arrests in recent days are alleged to have targeted unnamed people who run channels on the popular messaging site Telegram supporting reformists and the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani.

Two prominent journalists — Ehsan Mazandarani and Morad Saghafi — have also been detained.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist MP, wrote an open letter to Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad-Ali Jafari, calling on the organization to stay out of politics.

“Some incidents in recent days, including the simultaneous arrests of managers of Telegram channels with close associations to reformists and supporters of the government, which has apparently been done by the intelligence arm of the Sepah (Revolutionary Guards), has raised a wave of concern in society,” Sadeghi wrote in the letter published by the ILNA news agency.

Several other MPs have also criticized the arrests in open letters this week.

Outspoken moderate-conservative MP Ali Motahari threatened to seek the impeachment of the intelligence minister if he did not provide details of the arrests.

The Revolutionary Guards operate their own intelligence wing independently of the government and answerable only to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani, who will seek re-election on May 19, has united moderates and reformists with his efforts to improve relations with the West, despite largely failing to win the release of jailed opposition leaders or improve civil rights as he promised during the 2013 campaign.

Telegram, which has an estimated 20 million users in Iran, has become the leading site for political and cultural discussions in a country where Facebook and Twitter are banned.

The authorities have tried to control the site, demanding that channels with more than 5,000 followers register with the government.

A reformist newspaper also reported Saturday that Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of revolutionary founder Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had again been sentenced to six months for “spreading falsehoods” after she accused the judiciary of corruption.

Hashemi, a vocal supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi during the mass protests that followed the disputed 2009 election, previously served six months in jail for “disrupting public opinion” in 2012-13.

Immigration arrests in L.A. spark fear, outrage, but officials say they are routine


Arrests made by federal immigration officials in Southern California this week have heightened anxiety about a promised crackdown by President Trump on people in this country illegally.

The arrests sparked a protest in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday evening, with immigration advocates claiming that about 100 people had been taken into custody. But immigration officials disputed those numbers and said the arrests were part of routine activities, not tied to any new crackdown.

The situation highlighted fear among many immigrants about Trump’s vow to deport those here illegally. Los Angeles and Orange counties are home to 1 million immigrants living without proper papers, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

Some politicians said they were demanding answers from federal authorities about the arrests. Meanwhile, local police were fighting concerns that they were somehow involved in new immigration actions. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, have vowed not to take part in the mass deportations Trump and his supporters have promised.

The Pomona Police Department put out an alert Thursday night warning of social media hoaxes claiming the agency was taking part in immigration checkpoints. Similar rumors circulated last week as well. Police officials decried them as “fake news.”

“There is information that is out there that is wrong,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Bob Green, adding that his department would not participate in any federal immigration sweeps. “We are working hard with the immigrant communities to dispel fears.”

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the arrests were not part of a new and more aggressive mission the agency had adopted in light of the president’s stance on deportations.

In a statement, she said any arrests were part of the agency’s “routine” enforcement activities.

“Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. Examples would include known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions,” Kice wrote. “To that end, ICE’s routine immigration enforcement actions are ongoing and we make arrests every day.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said 100 people were detained, 60 of them Mexican nationals.

Salas said when she and other CHIRLA members arrived at a downtown L.A. detention center Thursday afternoon, they saw five white vans and one bus filled with people who they believed had been nabbed in the actions. They said they have not been able to get any information about those detained.

Salas said one man was at home when there was a knock on his door. When the man opened the door, he was met by an ICE agent who asked him to provide identification. When he couldn’t do so, he was detained, she said. Another man was detained at his work at a Target store in the San Fernando Valley, she said.

“They say it’s routine, but we don’t believe it was a routine operation,” Salas said.

An ICE official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity said the claims that ICE officers made 100 arrests Thursday were “grossly exaggerated.”

Green said Thursday that the department knew of no ICE raids going on in the San Fernando Valley.

The only ICE activity, he said, is the normal execution of deportation orders that is nothing out of the ordinary.

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement that he’s asked “federal officials to disclose how many children, men, and women they have detained; what the processing time will be; what the rationale is for their detention; and I asked that everyone be offered access to an attorney.”

At the federal detention center off Aliso Street downtown on Thursday night, dozens of people walked in a circle, holding signs that read: “Stop separating families” and “ICE out of L.A.”

At one point, a federal judge tried to drive down Aliso Street to get onto the 101 Freeway, but demonstrators had blocked the street. The judge was eventually able to get to the freeway.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) attended the protest. He said the issue is a personal one for him. Santiago’s father was undocumented when he immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teen.

“He came here to create a better life for my brother and I once we were born,” he said. “He was a hardworking guy. These people are no different. This is absolutely the point that we need to stand up for immigrant rights.”

Authorities make fresh arson arrests amid fear of new fires

IDF soldiers arrested overnight Sunday two Palestinian men suspected of lighting fires near the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, amid fears that new blazes could erupt as dry conditions persisted nearly a week into a fierce rash of blazes that have spread across the country.

While many of the fires to wreak havoc across the country since Tuesday have been caused by negligence, officials say at least some of the blazes were started by nationalistically motivated arsonists and have vowed to crack down on the perpetrators.

Troops apprehended the two men in their home village of Nahalim, south of Jerusalem, according to an statement from the army.

“Additional steps” were also taken against the owner of a gas station in the area suspected of selling gasoline to arsonists for use in lighting fires, the statement added without specifying the specific measures.

In all, at least 35 people have been arrested since Thursday on suspicion of setting fires or inciting others to do so. More than 15 were Palestinians arrested by the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, an army spokesperson said. At least 10 of those being held are Israeli Arabs, according to Hebrew media reports.

A photograph of a camera showing what appears to be a Palestinian man starting a fire in a field near Battir, outside of Bethlehem on November 26, 2016. (Parks Authority)

It was not immediately clear that the motive of all the arsonists was nationalistic. Israeli security officials on Saturday night gave preliminary indications that weather conditions were the prime cause of the initial wave of fires. Arsonists became a factor from Wednesday and into the weekend.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no doubt” some of the fires were started deliberately. “There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.

During a visit on Saturday night to communities damaged by fires, Public Security Minsiter Gilad Erdan called to destroy the homes of those found guilty of arson in a similar measure to that taken against Palestinians that have carried out deadly terrorist attacks int he past.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, police chief Roni Alsheich, Minister of Construction Yoav Galant and Minister of Interior Arye Deri during a briefing in Haifa, where a major fire was raging, November 24, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“We have tools that have been proven to work, such as destroying the homes of terrorists,” he told Channel 2 news. “If we can destroy the home of a terrorist who stabbed or shot someone, we must also destroy the homes of the arsonists who carried out their attacks for nationalistic motives. There’s no difference.”

In an interview Sunday morning, though, Erdan joined other officials in dismissing the idea that the rash of blazes were part of an orchestrated arson intifada.

Meanwhile, authorities are preparing for the possibility of further fires across the country.

Firefighters will remain on highest alert at least until Friday, officials said. More favorable weather, including a rise in humidity and drop in wind, is expected by Tuesday, while forecasts look for rain by Thursday, ending the unseasonable dry spell that started and exacerbated much of the wave of fires.

The Evergreen Supertanker plane extinguishes a forest fire near the northern city of Haifa, Israel on December 5, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Scattered small fires were reported in the Jerusalem area, with firefighters quickly squelching them.

In the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where a Friday night fire ravaged 18 homes, residents are expected to be able to return Sunday.

The Magen David Adom rescue service reported Saturday that among the 133 people treated by the organization for fire-related injuries, one was seriously hurt and three others were moderately injured. The overall tally is likely higher, officials said, as some people – one estimate suggested as many as 50 – may have gone to hospitals on their own for injuries such as smoke inhalation.

Meanwhile, the Nature and Parks Authority reported that some 30,000 dunams (7,400 acres) of national parks were burned. The Jewish National Fund, which plants and manages many of the country’s forests, said some 11,000 additional dunams (2,700 acres) of its own forests were also destroyed.

Burned houses and trees in the West Bank settlement of Halamish on November 26, 2016, a day after a devastating fire damaged or destroyed dozens of homes (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

In all, as much as 130,000 dunams (32,000 acres) of natural forests and brush were destroyed, about 30 percent more than the territory affected by the Carmel Forest fire of 2010. A great deal of the Judean Hills National Park and the Kfir Nature Reserve were burned.

Haifa city officials said Saturday that the fires ravaged some 28,000 dunams (6,900 acres) of land in the city since Thursday. Between 400 and 530 homes were damaged by the fires there.

In a Late-Night Move, Russia Arrests a Top Economic Official in a Bribery Case

MOSCOW — Russians awoke to an extraordinary scandal on Tuesday with the minister of economic development detained on charges of soliciting a $2 million bribe — the highest-level official arrested in Russia in decades.

The minister, Aleksei Ulyukayev, 60, a liberal stalwart with a trademark porcupine haircut, was detained in the middle of the night, a Soviet-like tactic against officials who had fallen into disfavor that many thought had been retired.

Mr. Ulyukayev was charged with extorting a $2 million bribe from Rosneft, the state oil giant, as a thank-you for endorsing a deal for it to buy a chunk of Bashneft, a smaller, government-owned oil company that the Kremlin recently confiscated from an oligarch.

Late on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin dismissed Mr. Ulyukayev from the minister’s job he had held since 2013, citing a “lack of trust.”

It was a rare bribery case to reach behind the high red walls of the Kremlin — though relatively small in a country where corruption is rampant — and to an unusual degree parted the curtains on the extended, opaque battle within the ruling elite over the direction and control of the sickly Russian economy.

Amid myriad questions about what actually happened, which may never be made public, one explanation emerged as the favorite.

The Kremlin and its allies, struggling to right an economy waterlogged by two years of recession, are seeking a life raft, analysts said. Mr. Ulyukayev’s mistake was to question their methods publicly.

In this line of thinking, Mr. Ulyukayev was being punished for initially trying to block Rosneft from expanding its reach by purchasing Bashneft, and for generally restraining its growth. On a larger scale, the arrest served as a warning from the increasingly dominant security services that no one should challenge them.

“I think the purpose of the whole thing was to eliminate resistance,” said Vladimir S. Milov, an opposition politician and former deputy minister of energy who now leads a think tank. “The message is, ‘Don’t stand in my way.’ A clear message for all future deals.”

The basic scenario goes something like this:

As the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, a former K.G.B. agent and Putin confidant, is sitting on about $15 billion in cash. With the state’s two main reserve funds dwindling, the Russian government covets that cash.

Mr. Sechin’s purchase of state assets transfers that money directly into the Russian treasury. It also increases his power, though there was a small wrinkle in the form of a law suggesting, except in extreme instances, that state assets should be sold into private hands. A private company, Lukoil, also expressed interest at a lower price.

As minister of economic development, Mr. Ulyukayev had to sign off on the sale of any state assets. So Bashneft was a major test case.

Mr. Sechin wanted it for Rosneft, despite the law and the widespread, negative public perception that the elite was once again, as it did in the 1990s, abusing privatization laws to seize commodity resources at bargain prices.

Mr. Ulyukayev tried to postpone the deal, but Mr. Putin backed the sale after initially hesitating. In October, it was announced that Rosneft would acquire a little more than half of Bashneft for more than $5 billion.

Mr. Sechin is known for a take no prisoners attitude toward anyone who challenges him, so the bribery charges against Mr. Ulyukayev were interpreted as revenge.

For Mr. Putin, the nation’s special reserve funds have served as Russia’s main, tangible economic cushion.

“The reserve funds have been something sacred. Putin always refers to them when he talks about economic difficulties,” Mr. Milov said. “They have been used as a strong, public indicator that the state still has capabilities.”

But they are shrinking fast with no economic revival in sight. Two sovereign funds, the Reserve Fund and the National Wealth Fund, are now down to less than $104 billion, compared with a combined $160 billion at the beginning of 2015, according to the Finance Ministry’s website.

The financial reserves are expected to run out by the end of 2017, just as Mr. Putin faces a campaign for a fourth term in the spring of 2018.

The Rosneft stash would help tide over the country for a longer period while the Kremlin ties its hopes to a rebound in the price of oil and the possible lifting of Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Ukraine crisis. Prospects for the latter brightened with President-elect Donald J. Trump’s criticism of the American policy of isolating Russia.

For now, the Russian economy hovers around zero growth, and consumers still struggle with inflation caused by a sharp drop in the ruble, along with food restrictions imposed in response to the Western sanctions.

With minimal outside investment, Russia’s economic fate is increasingly in the hands of the state. New statistics from the federal antimonopoly service show that the government controls about 70 percent of the economy, compared with 35 percent in 2005.

Olga V. Kryshtanovskaya, a leading sociologist who studies the Russian elite, said the Ulyukayev case cast a shadow over the entire government. “People resent the fact that they had to give up French cheese in order to support the president’s policies and such corruption cases still erupt,” she said in an interview.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin cranked its information machinery into high gear to paint the arrest as part of a continuing anticorruption crusade that has included the arrest of three governors in the last two years.

A report called “Fight Against Corruption” was the top one for much of the day on the main state-run television news network. A caravan of politicians appeared on screen to praise the arrest as evidence that nobody was above the law.

Mr. Ulyukayev was charged with extorting a large-scale bribe, Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said on state television. Mr. Ulyukayev threatened to use his official standing to create future problems for Rosneft, she said, and was detained on Monday while accepting $2 million.

Russian security services had monitored Mr. Ulyukayev’s telephone calls for a year, and Rosneft had put the $2 million in a safe deposit box, according to various news reports, but the accused had not touched it.

Timofei Gridnev, identified by Business FM radio as Mr. Ulyukayev’s lawyer, said the minister denied all the charges, calling them a “provocation” by Rosneft against a government official.

Mr. Ulyukayev was put under house arrest for two months.

Another school of thought, though not as widespread as the revenge story, holds that the bribery scandal was meant to hurt Rosneft, to show that it was a source of corruption and so to weaken Mr. Sechin.

Evidence for that was harder to find, however, especially because various politicians had demanded Mr. Ulyukayev’s head. Gennadi A. Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party, suggested that Mr. Ulyukayev was happy to enrich himself while denying the funds needed for a children’s cancer hospital in Moscow.

Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told Russian reporters, “This is a very serious accusation which calls for very serious evidence.” He said a court would make the ultimate determination about Mr. Ulyukayev’s guilt or innocence.

There was some mocking criticism of the charges from business leaders and others.

Apparently referring to Mr. Sechin’s reputation, Alexander N. Shokhin, the president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told the website that anyone who tried to shake down Rosneft for money should be the subject of a psychiatric investigation rather than a police investigation.

“If Alexei Ulyukayev had been accused of running over an old lady while driving a Gelandewagen at high speed through Moscow late at night, even that would look more probable,” Mr. Shokhin said.

Ilya Shumanov of Transparency International, which fights corruption, told RBC Daily, a financial newspaper, that a $2 million bribe was a paltry, unrealistic sum in Russia’s moneyed oil industry, suggesting that was the kind of sum a deputy mayor might solicit.

A recent shake-up among Mr. Putin’s advisers prompted some analysts to suggest that Mr. Ulyukayev’s arrest was part of a trend of replacing seasoned veterans with a younger generation less likely to question the president’s decisions.

Many analysts, however, considered the arrest part of a different trend: the increasing power of the siloviki, or members of the security services, over the whole government.

Oleg Feoktistov, the head of security at Rosneft and identified in news reports as the main executive behind Mr. Ulyukayev’s arrest, used to run internal security and corruption cases in the federal security service, or F.S.B.

“In the past six to eight months, these repressions have become more widespread,” said Kirill Rogov, an independent political analyst. “This is directly linked to the new people occupying new posts in the F.S.B., who want to expand their turf.”

Turkey arrests leaders of pro-Kurdish party, 9 other MPs

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkish police on Friday detained the two co-leaders of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and several other MPs in a major escalation of the crackdown in the wake of a failed July 15 coup.

Selahattin Demirtas was detained at his home in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir while the co-chairperson Figen Yuksekdag was held in Ankara as part of a terror investigation, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Their detention appeared part of a large-scale operation against the HDP, which is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament with 59 seats and the main political representative of the Kurdish minority.

Demirtas and Yuksekdag had been targeted by several separate probes over the last months but this is the first time that either has been detained.

The security operations took place after midnight, with Demirtas tweeting at 0130 local time (2230 GMT) that police had arrived at his home and he was about to be detained.

NTV television said the pair were accused of spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) while Anadolu said Demirtas was accused of provoking violence in deadly protests in October 2014.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the International Conference on Science and Technology organized by New Turkey Strategic Research Center in Ankara on October 3, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

Those detained also failed to respond to demands to give statements to prosecutors, Anadolu said.

According to the Turkish interior ministry, a total of 11 HDP MPs were detained, including the two co-leaders, NTV said.

Coordinated raids took place throughout the southeast of Turkey including the cities of Diyarbakir, Van and Bingol.

A police search was also in progress at the party’s general headquarters in Ankara.

Those detained including the prominent lawmaker Sirri Surreya Onder, who in the past has been a pointman for contacts with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The head of the HDP’s faction in the Turkish parliament, Idris Baluken, was also held.

Their detention followed a previous resolution by parliament allowing the immunity of MPs to be lifted.

Two more wanted HDP MPs — Faysal Sariyildiz and Tugba Hezer Ozturk — were found to be abroad while efforts were still under way to detain two others, Imam Tascier and Nihat Akdogan, Anadolu said.

The raids come as Turkey remains under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the July 15 failed coup, which critics say has gone well beyond targeting the actual coup plotters.

Pro-Kurdish People's Domocratic Party leader Selhattin Demirtas (L) addresses a demonstration in Diyarbakir on October 28, 2016 following the arrest of the two co-mayors. (AFP PHOTO / ILYAS AKENGIN)

Thirteen staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, including the editor-in-chief, were detained on Monday, further heightening strains in Turkish society.

Tensions have surged in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of Turkey since a fragile ceasefire declared by the PKK collapsed in 2015.

It has since stepped up its insurgency against the Turkish security forces, staging regular attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives among the military and the police.

The HDP seeks to promote the cause of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and defend the rights of Kurds as well as those of women, gays and workers.

The charisma in particular of Demirtas — dubbed the “Kurdish Obama” by some admirers after the US president — earned it success at the ballot box.

It also divides all its top jobs between a man and a woman, as with the party chairmanship, which is shared between Demirtas and Yuksekdag.

Turkish citizens wave their national flag as they protest against the military coup outside Turkey's parliament, near Turkish military headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, July 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

But the authorities accuse the party of being a front for the PKK and failing to distance itself from terror, claims it has always vehemently denied.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched repeated personal attacks on Demirtas, who analysts have seen as the sole politician in Turkey who comes anywhere near to rivalling his charisma.

Demirtas has made it a personal crusade to oppose Erdogan’s plan for a presidential system in Turkey, which the HDP says would lead to dictatorship.

Erdogan had earlier Thursday held talks with Devlet Bahceli, the head of the fourth largest party in parliament, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which despises the HDP and whose votes could be crucial in agreeing a presidential system.

The HDP strongly opposed the coup that aimed to unseat Erdogan but Demirtas told AFP in an interview after the putsch bid there was no contradiction in resisting both the plotters and the president.