Austrian Court Grants US Request For Extradition Of Ukrainian Tycoon Firtash

Elbert EdwardsFeb 23, 2017

A Vienna court has granted Washington's request to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmitri Firtash to the United States to stand trial on racketeering charges. Firtash has been a business associate of President Trump ally Paul Manafort.

Mr Firtash was indicted in Chicago by a USA grand jury in 2012 for allegedly using US banks to pay off Indian officials in a failed attempt to secure titanium mining rights there.

The United States argues it has jursidiction because the conspiracy involved using USA financial institutions, travel to and from the U.S., and use of US-based communications - computers, telephones, and the internet.

His legal team argued that he was caught up in a larger battle over the future of Ukraine, where the government has been engaged in bloody fighting with Russian-backed separatists in the east since 2014.

Firtash denies the charges.

But when the warrant was issued, the tycoon was already under house arrest in Austria over the United States allegations.

An extradition request in 2015 had been denied by a Viennese court, which called the USA allegations "politically motivated".

In its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court described the approval of the extradition as a procedural matter and said Firtash's guilt or innocence was a matter to be determined in the United States.

The prosecutor's office refused to comment on the Spanish case or how Firtash's arrest would affect the extradition ruling. Extradition was green-lighted by the court but could still be derailed.

Dieter Boehmdorfer, Mr Firtash's lawyer, reiterated that argument on Tuesday.

Firtash, 51, is a co-owner along with Russia's Gazprom of RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered company that exports natural gas from Turkmenistan to Eastern Europe.

The wealthy oligarch has been in Austria since 2014, when the allegations were first brought by USA prosecutors. Instead, she said, it was triggered by the receipt of "supplementary information from Spanish authorities".

"He is very valuable not only as a defendant but as witness too".

While Tuesday's ruling can not be appealed, the final decision on whether to hand Firtash over to United States authorities rests with Austria's justice minister. In Tuesday's hearings, Firtash's lawyers denounced that as misleading and outdated.

"In February of 2014, the USA wanted to remove Mr Firtash from the geopolitical and from the Ukrainian domestic game", defense lawyer Christian Hausmaninger reportedly said at the extradition hearing.

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