bne IntelliNews -
A Vienna court rejected a US government request to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash on April 30, saying that it was politically motivated.
There was a round of applause when Judge Christopher Bauer read out his summing up statement, concluding: "Political motivation is the basis for rejecting extradition even if a crime occurred, but in Mr Firtash's case there is no evidence of a crime."
Firtash – who is ranked as the fourth richest man in Ukraine according to local media, with an estimated wealth of $3bn - has denied any wrongdoing and maintained from the outset that the case was politically motivated.
The US asked the Austrian government to extradite Firtash on a request from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Firtash, who was arrested in Austria on March 12, 2014, is suspected of violating US laws on bribery in the course of his foreign business deals. He was at first placed in a pre-trial detention centre, but later released after posting a record bail of €125mn so long as he did not leave Austria.
Bauer was outspokenly critical of the US in his summing up, saying that "America obviously saw Firtash … threatening [US] commercial interests”, according to tweets by reporters in the courtroom. He also questioned whether witnesses cited by the US authorities actually existed. "There just wasn’t sufficient proof," Bauer said, according to journalists in the courtroom.
Firtash said that he wants to return to Ukraine but it is not clear if he can leave the country. Judge Bauer has released him from custody but ordered that he make himself available if required by the Austrian authorities. Firtash will get his passport back and has been given freedom of movement until a plea agreement comes into force.
"If they return the passport today - I’ll go today, if tomorrow - then tomorrow," TASS reported Firtash saying after the decision. "The case is not over yet, the prosecutor [has] filed with the highest court. I am happy with what has happened, I was sure that Austrian justice would be normal."
If Firtash does return home he might face fresh charges from the Ukrainian authorities. The Ukrainian government launched an embezzlement probe against the business interests of gas oligarch Dmitry Firtash on April 29.
Bauer also said that the US can submit more evidence if it wants. The US State Department has yet to comment on whether it intends to appeal the decision or follow up with fresh evidence.
A warrant for Firtash was issued by a district court of the US state of Illinois in the summer of 2013 and then by a grand jury in Chicago. In early April, the US accused him of paying bribes via US banks to Indian officials to get permission for the development of titanium deposits in India.
Firtash owned a string of trading companies using his Group DF managing company headquartered in Switzerland. The most controversial was RosUkrEnergo, which sat between Russian gas giant Gazprom and the Ukrainian government and handled the import of Russian gas to the Ukrainian market. This arrangement allegedly allowed Russia and Ukrainians in positions of power to siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars.
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