Enemies of Ukrainian gas oligarch Dmitro Firtash have taken a contract out on his life, according to Austria's Die Presse, with the most likely suspects in the Hungarian energy industry.
Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, was arrested in March in Vienna by Austrian police on the request of the FBI on bribery and racketeering charges. He is currently on bail in Austria awaiting a decision on extradition to the US.
Now Vienna's Die Presse reports that a contract has been taken out to murder Firtash. According toDie Presse, Firtash himself notified Austrian police that a contract had been taken out on his life. Sources in German foreign intelligence confirmed this, according to Die Presse. A team of hitmen from Hungary and Romania have moved to Vienna and rented an apartment, Die Presse says, forcing Firtash to move around only in the company of a dozen bodyguards.
Austria's prosecutor general Werne Pleischl confirmed to Die Presse that such a contract on Firtash' life is believed to exist, saying however that it was Firtash' lawyer himself who had notified Austrian authorities of the existence of the plot. "I wasn't particularly surprised," Pleischl told Die Presse, " because Firtash comes from the east and there is a lot of money at stake".
According to Viennese police, Firtash requested police protection, but it has not been regarded as necessary. "We are constantly in touch with the relevant authorities," Robert Shetler Jones, a longstanding Firtash associate, told Die Presse. "Due to the level of danger and a good relationship to the authorities, Firtash notifies them of every change in his location."
According to Die Presse's sources, the most likely source of the threat to Firtash's life comes from Hungary, where Firtash claims he was illegally forced out of the gas business in 2009, with his trading company Emfesz illegally transferred to other companies, and $250mn in cash siphoned off, according to Shetler Jones. According to Die Presse sources, the threat to Firtash' life comes from the vicinity of Emfesz.
According to Austrian investigators quoted by Die Presse, these other companies are currently under investigation in Hungary, in connection with corruption allegation concerning competition between Austria's OMV and Hungary's MOL to buy Croation oil company INA in 2008.
It is unclear how much of Die Presse's story originates with Firtash and claims made by Firtash to Austrian and German police, and how much has been independently established by investigators, say Viennese media sources.
In fighting extradition charges to the US, Firtash sought initially to portray himself as victim of a political conflict between the US and Russia over regime change in Ukraine, but may have found such claims won little credence in Austria, and that extradition to the US looms ever closer. The murder contract story may now provide Firtash with reason to leave Austria, possibly to Russia.
Russia is already place of residence of Semen Mogilevich, wanted by the FBI on organized crime charges, and allegedly a former business partner of Firtash.
Firtash's arrest in Vienna sent shockwaves through Ukraine's business world, but appears to have happened entirely independent of the crisis in Ukraine, being the result of a sealed grand jury indictment dating to January 2012.
US media wrote on November 6 that an investigation on money laundering charges is in progress concerning Russian oligarch Gennady Tymchenko and his oil trading concern Gunvor. Tymchenko is already subject to an assets freeze by the US in connection with his alleged proximity to Russian president Vladimir Putin, following Putin's decision to annex Crimea in March 2014.
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