Vienna court upholds US request to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Firtash

Vienna court upholds US request to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Firtash
Austrian justice minister should now allow or block Firtash's extradition to the US.
By bne IntelliNews February 21, 2017

The judicial panel of the Higher District Court of Vienna on February 21 granted a request by the United States to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash from his current location in Austria over bribery allegations.

In April 2015, a court in Vienna refused to extradite Firtash, the owner of Group DF, to the US where he is wanted for allegedly bribing Indian officials to secure mining licences. The Austrian court accepted the argument of Firtash and his lawyers that the US case was politically motivated, and was aimed at removing the businessman from active participation in Ukrainian politics.

"The [appeal against the previous decision] has been granted," Reuters quoted the judge as saying. "This does not mean that somebody is being pre-judged as guilty, but rather that it will be decided in another country whether they are guilty or innocent."

The judge added that the final decision on extradition lies with Austrian Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter, according to Ukrainian media.

In December 2015, Firtash postponed his return home from self-imposed exile in Austria, citing alleged political persecution by his country's government.

His defence lawyer said during the February 21 hearing that Austria's reputation and its justice as a democracy should stand behind his client, since the US allegedly wanted to thwart Firtash as an influential politician and businessman, and possible participant in a project in the titanium industry, Interfax news agency reported.

The lawyer added that the US is also interested in the extradition of Firtash as he actively worked with Russian companies.

Last year, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office of Spain reportedly put Firtash on the international wanted list for alleged money laundering in large amounts. Crimes allegedly involve tens of millions of euros of criminal origin, which were transfered through a number of offshore companies in Panama for Firtash, while some of the funds were invested in Spanish real estate.

The pro-Russian Opposition Bloc in Ukraine is partly controlled by Firtash, alongside another influential oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.