An Austrian court Thursday refused to extradite a pro-Russia Ukrainian energy magnate to the U.S., saying FCPA and related charges against him were politically motivated.
Austrian authorities detained Dmytro Firtash in March 2014 on an arrest warrant issued by the United States.
Firtash, 49, was a gas-industry oligarch and one of Ukraine’s most powerful figures during the reign of now-deposed dictator Viktor Yanukovych.
The billionaire tycoon argued in Austria that the U.S. prosecution was aimed at ending his influence in Ukraine.
Austrian Judge Christoph Bauer said evidence relied on by DOJ prosecutors wasn’t reliable because it included incomplete testimony from two anonymous witnesses.
The judge ruled Thursday that the U.S. extradition request was “politically motivated and therefore extradition is inadmissible.”
Judge Bauer said he’ll enter a final order releasing Firtash from his $174 million bail and lifting all travel restrictions on him.
The U.S. unsealed a federal indictment in April last year that charged six foreign nationals including Firtash and a government official in India with an alleged conspiracy to bribe Indian officials in exchange for titanium mining rights.
Beginning in 2006, the DOJ said, the defendants allegedly conspired to pay at least $18.5 million in bribes for mining licenses in the Indian coastal state of Andhra Pradesh. The mining project was expected to generate more than $500 million annually from the sale of titanium products, including sales to unnamed “Company A,” headquartered in Chicago, the DOJ said.
Except for Firtash, the five other defendants have remained at large.
- Andras Knopp, 76, a Hungarian businessman
- Suren Gevorgyan, 41, of Ukraine
- Gajendra Lal, 51, an Indian national and permanent resident of the United States who formerly resided in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Periyasamy Sunderalingam, aka “Sunder,” 61, of Sri Lanka, and
- K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, aka “KVP” and “Dr. KVP,” 65, a member of parliament in India.
Rao was also a close advisor to the now-deceased chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.
The five-count indictment was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Chicago on June 20, 2013.
All six defendants were charged with one count each of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, and two counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Five defendants, excluding Rao, were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.
“According to the indictment, Firtash was the leader of the enterprise,” the DOJ said.
The DOJ indictment is still pending. It seeks forfeiture of Firtash’s interest in 14 companies registered in Austria, 18 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, as well as 127 other companies registered in Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Seychelles, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, and 41 bank accounts in several of the same countries.
When Firtash was arrested last year in Vienna, the Austrian Federal Crime Agency said local prosecutors had ordered the arrest “based on years of investigations by the U.S. FBI, and an arrest warrant issued by a U.S. federal district court.”
In a statement Thursday, Firtash said: “I have already expressed many times my confidence in the Austrian justice system. Today this confidence has proven to be justified.”
A DOJ spokesperson said the U.S. was disappointed by the ruling and would appeal.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.