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Austrian Justice Minister OKs Firtash's Extradition To U.S., But Process Put On Hold

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Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash

Austria's justice minister has approved the extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash to the United States, where he has been charged as part of an alleged bribery scheme, but his extradition was put on hold as his defense team immediately filed a court motion to reopen the case.

Clemens Jabloner's July 16 approval of the extradition came three weeks after Austria's Supreme Court upheld a decision allowing a request by the United States to extradite Firtash.

However, a Vienna state court judge ruled the extradition could only take place after that court has decided on the new defense motion. Court spokeswoman Christina Salzborn said the defense provided "extremely extensive material."

A former business associate of President Donald Trump's ex-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and one of Ukraine's wealthiest men, Firtash has been fighting against extradition since his 2014 arrest in Vienna.

Manafort is currently serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence after being convicted of bank and tax fraud and pleading guilty to other foreign-agent registration charges.

U.S. authorities have been investigating Firtash, 54, since 2006 on suspicion of bribery and forming an organized crime group.

Specifically, Firtash was indicted in 2013 in the bribery scheme involving titanium supplies for aircraft giant Boeing and is wanted in a U.S. federal court in Chicago, where Boeing has its corporate headquarters.

Boeing is not charged in the case, although it has said that it did consider doing business with Firtash. No agreement, however, was ever signed.

Firtash has denied any wrongdoing and has said the extradition case against him is politically motivated.

A Vienna Regional Court concurred with him in an April 30, 2015, ruling that denied the U.S. extradition request, but that decision was reversed by a higher court in February 2017.

Additionally, on June 21, a federal court in Chicago refused to throw out his foreign bribery and racketeering case.

The twists in Firtash's case include being rearrested in Vienna on a Spanish warrant in February 2017, just minutes after an Austrian court cleared the way for his U.S. extradition.

Shortly after his March 2014 arrest in Vienna, Firtash posted a record bail bond of 125 million euros ($172 million) that was paid by Russian billionaire Vasily Anisimov, a business partner of Arkady Rotenberg, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Firtash was barred from leaving Austria as the extradition cases moved through the courts.

A former firefighter, Firtash’s wealth stems in large part from the lucrative natural gas trade in Ukraine, whose pipelines have long served as the key conduit for Russian gas supplies heading to Western Europe.

Firtash and a Ukrainian business partner established natural-gas intermediary RosUkrEnergo with Russian state-run Gazprom in 2004 and dominated natural-gas imports to Ukraine for at least five years.

Banks reportedly close to Putin also gave Firtash loans of up to $11 billion leading up to 2014, money that he used to purchase chemical fertilizer plants in Ukraine.

U.S. authorities also have accused Firtash of ties to Russian organized crime, allegations that he denies.

No such charge appears in Firtash's indictment.

Firtash also was considered an important financier of the Party of Regions and was involved in hiring Manafort, then a U.S. political consultant and lobbyist, in 2005 to help rebuild the party after its then-leader, Viktor Yanukovych, was defeated for the presidency by Viktor Yushchenko following the 2004 Orange Revolution.

With reporting by AP, Interfax, Deutsche Welle, and Reuters
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