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Vienna court to decide on Ukrainian oligarch Firtash’s extradition to US

April 30, 2015, 13:58 UTC+3 VIENNA
Firtash was arrested in Vienna on March 12, 2014 on the extradition request from the FBI on suspicion of violating laws on bribery in the course of his foreign business deals
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Dmitry Firtash

Dmitry Firtash

© ITAR-TASS/Maxim Nikitin, file

VIENNA, April 30. /TASS/. A Vienna court started hearings on Thursday to decide on the extradition of Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash to the United States.

Firtash was arrested in Vienna on March 12, 2014 on the extradition request from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on suspicion of violating laws on bribery in the course of his foreign business deals.

The Ukrainian oligarch was placed in a pre-trial detention center but was soon released without permission to leave Austria after posting a bail of 125 million euros, a record sum for the Austrian judicial practice.

A warrant for Firtash, one of Ukraine’s richest people, was issued by a district court of the US state of Illinois in the summer of 2013. In early April, the US accused him of bribing Indian officials to get permission for the development of titanium deposits in India.

Firtash is among six suspects, including Hungarian businessman Andras Knopp, Ukrainian national Suren Gevorgyan, Indian politician Ramachandra Rao and two businessmen from India and Sri Lanka, in the probe into the establishment of an international criminal scheme.

According to investigators, Firtash held talks with Indian officials, bribing them in exchange for preferential treatment in the issuance of permits.

He is also accused of forging documents on money transfer to mask bribes as ordinary commercial payments.

No judicial proceedings were ever opened against Firtash in Austria, except the US extradition request.

Several dozen journalists are watching the court’s hearings on Firtash’s extradition.

Firtash told the court on Thursday he was refusing from his voluntary extradition to the US.

The Ukrainian oligarch said the request for his extradition was politically motivated.

In turn, a judge said that Austria had initially received the US extradition request in November 2013. However, it was cancelled several days later, about which the US authorities informed in late 2013.

After that, Austria received a new US extradition request on February 27, 2014, following which a warrant for Firtash’s arrest was issued and the Vienna police arrested the Ukrainian oligarch on the same day, the judge said.

After posting the bail, Firtash was released from custody without the permission to leave Austria.

The judge who commented on the charges brought by the US authorities against the Ukrainian oligarch, said "the Firtash group was interested in developing a titanium deposit in India."

"For this purpose, it was necessary to obtain a license and in this process Firtash and his subordinates were bribing officials," the judge said, adding that about 19 million euros had been spent on bribes.

According to the judge, Austria requested additional information from the US authorities, including the causes for withdrawing the extradition request in November 2013.

The Vienna court also requested US law-enforcement agencies to grant access to the testimony of two anonymous eye-witnesses largely used as the basis for the accusations but received no full explanations, the judge said.

Firtash’s lawyer argued that the US charges were politically motivated, saying his defendant had become "an entrepreneur on a global scale," actively operating on the Ukrainian gas market since 2004 and expanding his presence on the world titanium market since 2006.

Besides, Firtash supported Viktor Yanukovych and not Yulia Tymoshenko at the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2010, the lawyer said, adding "the titanium case became just a pretext.".

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