News / Europe

Ukrainian Gas Oligarch Firtash Arrested in Vienna on FBI Warrant

Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, (R) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich take part in an opening ceremony of a new complex for the production of sulfuric acid in Crimea region, April 27, 2012.
Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, (R) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich take part in an opening ceremony of a new complex for the production of sulfuric acid in Crimea region, April 27, 2012.
Industrialist Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine's most influential oligarchs with close links to Russia through his gas interests, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States.
Austria's Federal Crime Agency said on Thursday that Firtash was held on Wednesday on suspicion of violating laws on bribery and forming a criminal organization in the course of foreign business deals.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said, "Our embassy in Austria has confirmed that Dmytro Firtash has been detained at the request of the [U.S.] Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is now being held in a detention center."
The detention of Firtash, 48, whose business concerns in gas trading and chemicals thrived under ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, is the highest profile arrest in the wake of  political turmoil which installed new pro-Western authorities in power in Kyiv in February.
Firtash's company Group DF said the FBI case appeared related to an investment project in 2006 which another group source said was in India.
The statement from Group DF said, "We know that the actions of the law enforcement organs of Austria in relation to Dmytro Firtash are not linked with the situation in Ukraine, not with the activity of the Group in Europe and America but relate to an investment project in 2006.
"We are sure that the present incident is a misunderstanding and will be resolved very soon."
A spokesman for Austria's Federal Crime Agency said the order to take him into custody came this month.
Forbes Ukraine magazine last year put Firtash in 14th place on its Ukrainian rich list, setting his fortune at $673 million.
Though he is nowhere near as wealthy as the country's top oligarchs, Firtash's close links to Russia, and possibly to the Kremlin via the energy sector, make him one of the most influential figures in Ukraine.
Firtash is not named on an initial European Union list of Ukrainians suspected of misusing state funds and violating human rights and whose assets are to be frozen as a result of the crisis over the Russian incursion into Ukraine's Crimea.
He is one of several Ukrainian oligarchs who have called for Ukraine's territorial integrity to be maintained in the face of Russia's military incursion into Crimea.
U.S. prosecutors have not announced any charges against Firtash, and a database of criminal cases did not show any on Thursday. The United States has had an extradition treaty with Austria since 2000, according to the U.S. State Department.

'Strong message'
Ukraine's new prosecutor-general Oleh Makhnitsky told Reuters "We are not the initiators of this action".
The Austrian Federal Crime Agency said in its statement, "Based on years of investigations by the U.S. FBI and an arrest warrant issued by a U.S. federal district court, Vienna prosecutors issued a national order to detain the businessman."
He was taken into custody without incident in Vienna on Wednesday evening, it said, and was transferred to a justice facility in Vienna.
However, some analysts saw a link between Firtash's detention and U.S. and Western governments' moves to bring pressure to bear on Moscow over Crimea.
"It [Firtash's arrest] sends a strong message to Russia that the west is willing to go down the financial sanctions route unless it backtracks over Crimea and over broader policy towards Ukraine," said Timothy Ash of Standard Bank.
Firtash is founder and chairman of Group DF, whose website describes it as a diversified international group of companies operating across Europe and Asia in fields including fertilizer, titanium, gas distribution and banking. His plants and companies are present in Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Tajikistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria and Estonia.
But a substantial part of Firtash's fortune came from a 45 percent stake he held in RosUkrEnergo, a subsidiary of Russia's Gazprom which acted as an intermediary between the Russian supplier and Ukraine's state-run Naftogaz until former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko shut RosUkrEnergo out of the market in 2009.
He kept close links with Russia when Yanukovich came to power in 2010. His Ostchem Holding, grouping chemical firms in east and central Europe, has enjoyed gas discounts from Gazprom which promised him 8 billion cubic meters annually at a price last year of $260 per thousand cubic meters, according to the Ukrainian media, less than the $400 per thousand cubic meters paid by Naftogaz.
Before Yanukovich's dramatic and swift fall from power, Firtash's contacts made him even more powerful than Ukraine's richest man, steel and chemicals billionaire Rinat Akhmetov.
A year ago, in what was seen then as a move that would help Yanukovich secure re-elelection in 2015, Firtash bought a leading TV station Inter for a reported $2.5 billion.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs