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.
Reuters
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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More