This story originated in VOA's Ukrainian Service.
WASHINGTON — Austria's acting justice minister says he has yet to decide whether to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash to face bribery charges in the United States.
On June 25, Austria’s Supreme Court upheld a decision granting a U.S. request to extradite the gas tycoon, paving the way for him to face trial in the United States.
"We can inform you that the minister has not yet decided [whether to extradite Firtash to the United States]," a justice ministry official told VOA's Ukrainian Service on Tuesday, reversing expectations that followed last week's ruling.
Firtash, who denies any wrongdoing, was a supporter of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and 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.
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.
The Austrian Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling by a lower court, according to which Firtash can be extradited despite his lawyers arguing that he is the victim of political “persecution” by the United States, which he has never visited.
Firtash's defense team is led by former Austrian Justice Minister Dieter Boehmdorfer.
Austria's constitution says Justice Minister Clemens Jabloner, a civil servant who is part of a caretaker government in operation until elections are held, ultimately decides whether to execute the court's extradition request.
Tuesday's Justice Ministry comments contradicted widely held expectations that Jabloner would quickly decide the fate of Firtash, who has been free on bail since the lower court verdict to extradite in February 2017.
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.
Austria's Justice Ministry said via email "there is no deadline for decision-making [about the Firtash extradition court ruling], and unfortunately we cannot give you a specific time period."
Some information for this report came from Reuters.