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Austrian Court Rejects U.S. Request To Extradite Ukrainian Oligarch

May 01, 2015

An Austrian court on April 30 rejected a U.S. request to extradite Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash to face corruption charges.

Though the gas and chemicals executive is suspected of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Indian officials, the court in Vienna said the U.S. bid for extradition was not supported by sufficient evidence and was at least partially politically motivated.

The ruling came after more than 12 hours of proceedings. The prosecution said it would appeal.

One of Ukraine's most influential oligarchs, Firtash, 49, was arrested in Vienna a year ago at the request of U.S. authorities, which have been investigating him since 2006.

A U.S. grand jury in Chicago indicted Firtash in 2013, along with a member of India's parliament and four others, on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to mining licenses and titanium deposits

The oligarch was released from detention in March 2014 after posting bail of 125 million euros ($140 million).

At this week's proceedings in Vienna, the billionaire business magnate, wearing a grey suit and red tie, told the court that allegations he had conspired to bribe India government officials were 'totally absurd' and 'absolutely untrue.'

'I have already expressed many times my confidence in the Austrian justice system. Today this confidence has proven to be justified,' Firtash said in a statement after the ruling.

Firtash portrayed himself as victim of a political campaign by Washington. His lawyers, citing leaked U.S. diplomatic cables expressing distrust of the tycoon, said he had aroused U.S. suspicion by founding a venture with Russia's Gazprom to deliver gas to Ukraine. Firtash said he had acted as an honest broker to help end wrangling over prices.

The Ukrainian billionaire used his money to back former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych before his ouster. He said that U.S. authorities were influenced by Yanukovych's political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

When Tymoshenko was prime minister in 2009, she signed a gas supply deal with Moscow that ended Firtash's lucrative gas brokerage business. She lost the presidential election to Yanukovych in 2010. In the following year, Tymoshenko was found guilty and imprisoned for having abused her powers in closing the gas deal.

Aside from any political motivations in pursuing the case, Judge Christoph Bauer said U.S. officials did not supply all the documents requested by the court as evidence.

Court officials said bail would remain in effect but Firtash could leave Austria on condition that he was reachable through his lawyers.

Kim Nerheim, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, declined any comment on the Austrian ruling.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-oligarch-firtash-extradition/26988269.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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