11:57, June 25 64 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-25 11:57:06
Ukrainian tycoon can be extradited to US, Austrian court rules

Austria’s highest court has upheld a decision making it possible to extradite the Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash, paving the way for him to face bribery-related charges in the United States.

Before his 2014 arrest, Firtash wielded significant political influence in Ukraine, where he had made a fortune from deals to import gas from Russia and central Asia and built a business empire worth billions.

He was a close confidant of the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in the Maidan revolution in February 2014, and is also a former business partner of Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager who has since been jailed for fraud.

A US grand jury indicted the Ukrainian businessman and five others on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials in deals involving supplies of titanium that could have affected the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Firtash has denied any wrongdoing in his case and has said the charges against him are politically motivated.

His lawyers have also said the US should not have jurisdiction in the case. An Austrian court in 2015 agreed with him, declining a US request for extradition, but that decision was reversed by a higher court in 2017 and upheld in a decision on Tuesday.

“We are disappointed in today’s decision by the Austrian supreme court,” his lawyers said in a statement. “In any event, nothing has changed regarding Mr Firtash’s innocence and the absence of evidence that he is guilty of any crime.”

Austria’s justice minister will make a final decision whether to turn Firtash over to a federal court in Chicago.

Firtash posted a record bail bond of £100m but had been barred from leaving Austria while the extradition case was ongoing.

Firtash’s arrest has largely kept him out of politics in Ukraine since the 2014 revolution and led to speculation that the criminal case against him was politically motivated.

In a 2016 interview with the Guardian, Firtash had denied pushing Russian interests in Ukraine but did say he had called on others to have closer talks with Russia.

“I told everyone we should bring Russia to the table and discuss it all together,” says Firtash. “People say I want to swap democracy for cheap gas – I want to have both. I would like to have European values. But let’s be honest, if we turn one way or the other, we lose a lot. We can’t be without Russia, because for us it’s a huge market. But we don’t want to lose Europe either. Why do we have to choose?”