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Austria: Firtash Extradition to US Blocked by 'Extensive' Bid to Reopen Case

FILE - Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash waits for the start of his trial at the Austrian supreme court in Vienna, June 25, 2019.
FILE - Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash waits for the start of his trial at the Austrian supreme court in Vienna, June 25, 2019.

This story originated in VOA's Ukrainian Service. Some information is from AP.

WASHINGTON — The Austrian justice minister's Tuesday announcement that he will extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash to face bribery charges in the United States has been upended by an application to reopen the case in Vienna.

Last month, Austria's Supreme Court upheld a decision granting a U.S. request to extradite the gas tycoon — who prosecutors say had business ties to President Donald Trump's ex-campaign manager, Paul Manafort — paving the way for him to face trial in a Chicago courtroom.

Firtash, who denies any wrongdoing, is facing a U.S. indictment that accuses him of a conspiracy to pay bribes in India to mine titanium, which is used in jet engines.

A longtime supporter of Ukraine's ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Firtash is alleged to have made billions of dollars selling Russian-subsidized gas to the Kyiv government. He later launched profitable ventures in television and chemicals production, and has long-established connections with businessmen from the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, attracting the interests of U.S. law enforcement agencies.

On Tuesday, the Austria Press Agency reported that Justice Minister Clemens Jabloner had approved Firtash's extradition, but a Vienna state court judge ruled it could only take place after that court has decided on the defense motion to reconsider the matter.

'Extremely extensive material’

Court spokeswoman Christina Salzborn said the defense provided "extremely extensive material."

"At the moment, there is no date set for the extradition," Salzborn told VOA's Ukrainian Service. "The accused applied for a reopening of the case and submitted numerous documents. ... Due to the load of data and newly submitted evidence, it will take some time to assess the reopening request.

"The court decision can once more be subject of an appeal, so even after the court's decision regarding the reopening request, I don't think the case will be finished," Salzborn added.

Asked if the reopened case could carry into fall, Salzborn said, "Yes, I guess even longer, as the decision regarding the reopening can be appealed, too. Everything is pending for the time of the reopening procedure."

A U.S. grand jury indicted Firtash in 2013, along with a member of India's parliament and four others, on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to minerals used in titanium-based products.

Arrested in 2014

Firtash was arrested in Austria in 2014 and then freed on 125 million euros ($141 million) bail. In a protracted legal battle, a Vienna court initially ruled against extradition on the grounds the indictment was politically motivated.

A higher Vienna court in February 2017 rejected that reasoning as "insufficiently substantiated,'' ruling that Firtash could be extradited.

Austria's Supreme Court of Justice upheld that ruling last month.

Firtash's defense team is led by former Austrian Justice Minister Dieter Boehmdorfer, who on Tuesday told Austrian national radio station O1 that reopening the case will prove "the U.S. does have a far-reaching political motivation'' to secure Firtash.

The U.S. investigation of Firtash was first reported in 2008, when he was named principal shareholder in an obscure company that was involved in lucrative gas deals between Russia and Ukraine. The U.S. extradition request led to Firtash's 2014 arrest in Vienna.

Bid to dismiss indictment

In June, a Chicago federal judge rejected a motion to dismiss the indictment against Firtash, who has argued that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over crimes in India. However, federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that it does, because any scheme would have affected a Chicago-based company.

Chicago-based U.S. aviation giant Boeing said it considered business with Firtash but never followed through. It is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Before becoming Trump's campaign manager, Manafort pursued a business deal with Firtash to redevelop a Manhattan hotel. Manafort isn't accused of wrongdoing in the Chicago case.