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Austrian Supreme Court Upholds U.S. Extradition Request For Ukrainian Tycoon Firtash

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Austrian Court Upholds Extradition Ruling On Ukraine Tycoon Dmytro Firtash
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VIENNA -- Austria's Supreme Court has upheld a decision allowing a request by the United States to extradite Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash, the latest twist in the case for the oligarch who has been fighting against extradition since his 2014 arrest in Vienna.

Following the court ruling on June 25, a final decision will be made by Austria's justice minister on whether to execute the request.

Accompanied by his wife Lada and several bodyguards, the industrialist walked out of the courthouse stonefaced in the Austrian capital without commenting.

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 and is wanted in a U.S. federal court in Chicago as part of an alleged bribery scheme involving titanium supplies for aircraft giant Boeing.

Based in Chicago, 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.

His lawyers voiced disappointment with the Austrian Supreme Court's decision but said they were confident a U.S. jury will find Firtash innocent if he goes on trial.

"He has never done business in the United States, never visited the United States, and had no knowledge of any plan to bribe Indian officials about an Indian titanium mine that never happened," lawyers Dan Webb and Lanny Davis said in a statement following the ruling.

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 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.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer disagreed with Firtash's American lawyers on whether her courtroom had jurisdiction and rejected claims that the charges against Firtash are legally flawed.

Given that the alleged goal was to sell metals to Boeing, Pallmeyer said her "venue is proper in the district where an overt act was 'intended to have an effect."

One of Ukraine's richest men, Firtash is a former business associate of President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chairman.

Paul Manafort approached Firtash in 2008 about investing in real estate in New York City but the Ukrainian turned down the deal, Davis said.

Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, until he was fired that August, amid revelations about his extensive work in Ukraine.

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.

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 for by Russian billionaire Vasily Anisimov, a business partner of Arkady Rotenburg, 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.

Natural-Gas Tycoon

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.

Firtash's friend and business partner in Ukrainian TV broadcaster Inter, lawmaker Serhiy Lyovochkin, was seen in the courtroom.

Inter is seen as a Kremlin-friendly channel, according to Ukrainian media watchdog groups.

Also present in the courtroom was Mykhailo Papiev, a lawmaker in the same Moscow-friendly Opposition Bloc party as Lyovochkin.

Manafort took part in creating the Opposition Bloc, an offspring of the former ruling Party of Regions, in 2014 after ex-President Viktor Yanukovych fled office in the wake of the 2014 antigovernment protests known as Euromaidan.

A November 2014 Reuters report that cited Russian customs documents said companies that Firtash controlled made more than $3 billion in the four previous years by purchasing natural-gas from Russia's Gazrprom at "well below market prices."

Banks cozy 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.

In 2008, Firtash admitted to William Taylor, then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, that he needed "approval" from Russian mafia figure Semion Mogilevich "to get into business in the first place," according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables that were posted online in 2010 by WikiLeaks but not independently confirmed.

Later, Firtash denied ever saying those words to Taylor as well as having business ties to Mogilevich.

Mogilevich was on the FBI's top 10 most-wanted list until December 2015 for allegedly participating "in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud thousands of investors."

Firtash was also 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 in the election for the presidency by Viktor Yushchenko following the 2004 Orange Revolution.

With reporting by Reuters and Politico
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