An Austrian court has approved the extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash to the United States to face bribery allegations, overturning an earlier ruling that had said the U.S. request was politically motivated.
Firtash, once an ally of former Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, has rejected the allegations as "absurd and unfounded."
Extradition, however, is still not a certainty. Firtash can appeal against the February 21 verdict at Austria's Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the final decision rests with Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter, said Judge Leo Levnaic-Iwanski who headed the panel of the Upper State Court.
Minutes after Levnaic-Iwanski announced the verdict, a spokeswoman for Austrian prosecutors said Firtash had been detained on a European arrest warrant based on a separate Spanish request.
The spokewoman said it was too early to say if implementing the European warrant might have an impact on the extradition proceedings. Spanish media said the request was in relation to suspected money laundering.
Firtash is a co-owner along with Russia's Gazprom of RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered company that exports natural gas from Turkmenistan to Eastern Europe. He is said to have made his fortune selling gas to the Ukrainian government when Yanukovych was in power.
Firtash was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in 2013 in connection with some $18.5 million in bribes allegedly paid for a permit to mine titanium in India.
He was detained in Vienna in March 2014 on the U.S. charges, but he was set free after posting bail of 125 million euros ($133 million), and an Austrian judge rejected a U.S. extradition request as politically motivated.
On February 21, Judge Levnaic-Iwanski said the United States had provided further documents to strengthen its case against Firtash since the previous Austrian court ruling.
Firtash, who is also wanted on criminal charges in Ukraine, has not left Austria since his initial detention.
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman, in an email sent in reply to an RFE/RL request for comment, said: “While, as a general policy, the U.S. Department of Justice does not comment on the particulars of pending extradition cases, we would like to extend our thanks to the Government of Austria for our close cooperation on law enforcement matters.”
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP