Austrian Court Grants US Request For Extradition Of Ukrainian Tycoon Firtash

USA prosecutors are seeking Firtash, a one-time ally of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, on allegations he led a conspiracy to pay $18.5 million to Indian officials to facilitate a mining project there.

"In February of 2014, the USA wanted to remove Mr. Firtash from the geopolitical and from the Ukrainian domestic game", defense lawyer Christian Hausmaninger said in the lower court proceedings.

Firtash, 51, made money through connections with Russian gas giant Gazprom, and was at one time linked to a former campaign aide of US President Donald Trump.

An Austrian judge rejected the initial extradition request, saying it appeared to be a USA effort to remove an ally of Mr Yanovych, who had been overthrown in a revolution the previous month, from Ukrainian politics. In new filings with the court previous year, they submitted wiretaps showing what they said was evidence of Firtash's ties with organized crime.

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Firtash - Ukraine's 16th richest man with estimated wealth of $251 million as of 2016 - is the co-owner of RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered company that transports natural gas from Central Asia to Eastern European countries. One of the destinations for the titanium was IL, leading to Firtash and five business partners facing charges in the U.S.

In a 2014 video, Firtash denied the bribery allegations, claiming he was stuck in the middle of a "battlefield for the two biggest global players of Russian Federation and the United States".

The Ukrainian magnate backed Yanukovych's successful 2010 election campaign, which saw him go on to expand his business interests.

Observers say United States authorities want to detain Firtash because he holds information on close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Prosecutors have denied any link or political motivation for the arrest, saying "the crimes Firtash is accused of have no political character".

"He is very valuable not only as a defendant but as witness too". According to legal sources in Vienna, the final go-ahead for Firtash's transfer to Chicago will have to come from Austrian Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter.

"It wasn't for us to judge whether Mr. Firtash was guilty, but only whether the extradition is allowed". In Tuesday's hearings, Firtash's lawyers denounced that as misleading and outdated.

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