Extradition case of Ukrainian oligarch raises questions about his return to Ukraine

On the 21st of February, the High District Court of Vienna (Austria) authorized the extradition of Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash to the US. Now the final decision about whether to hand the businessman over to the US or to Spain will be made by the Austrian minister of justice. The case proceedings regarding the extradition of Firtash to the US have taken place in Austria since the 23rd of October 2015. In the US, the businessman is accused of giving a bribe of $18,5 to acquire titanium mining rights in India. Firtash is being threatened with 50 years of prison, and the confiscation of all assets (by the US). Shortly after the court ruled in favor of the extradition, the oligarch was arrested. However, the arrest concerned a different case – the prosecutor’s office explained that this arrest was technically unrelated to the court’s ruling about extradition. It was based on a request from Spain to have Firtash arrested, as he is accused of money laundering there. The prosecutor’s office was unable to comment on how the arrest would affect the extradition.

In a joint statement, all the advocates of oligarch Dmytro Firtash warned that they intend to dispute the ruling of the High District Court of Vienna to extradite their defendant, by appealing to the High court, and also in Europe, to the European Court of Human Rights.

Ralph Isenegger, one of the Ukrainian oligarch’s advocates, stated that the minister of justice could decline the requests of the US and Spain. According to Insinegger, the minister must examine both cases in detail – the request for extradition to the US, and the European arrest warrant from Spain. “The minister of justice could ascertain the political motivation of these requests. On the basis of such conclusions he [the minister] could decline the requests of the US and Spain,” the advocate said. He also stressed that the time for the mister to review the documents has not been determined, because there have been no such precedents in Austrian judicature.

Furthermore, a journalist from the Ukrainian publication “Segodnya” in Vienna reported that the Austrian Ministry of Justice will make a decision regarding the extradition of Dmytro Firthash in a few days. It is expected that the businessman will be released, but his passport will be confiscated. He will remain in Vienna for a minimum of two months while the request from Spain is being reviewed. The consideration of the first instance will take a month, and the appeal will take another month.

Oleksiy Honcharenko, deputy head of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in parliament, suspects that the procedure regarding Firtash is being prolonged. Moreover, he thinks that the request for extradition to Spain may have been instigated by the oligarch himself. “I don’t completely understand this story with the request from Spain. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was instigated by Firtash himself. After all, it would be better for him to be extradited to Spain than to the US. Aside from that, this may have been done to prolong the legal process,” the MP said.

Ukrayinska Pravda media source reported with reference to its own sources that Firtash’s entourage is confident that the businessman will not be kept behind bars.

“In a few days, Firtash will most likely walk out on a new bail relating to the Spanish case,” the publication’s sources reckon.

At the same time, they are certain that the extradition of Dmytro Firtash to US territory will not take place because “the defense has found a formula for appealing yesterday’s [21st February] ruling in Austria”.

At the same time, many experts do not exclude the return of Firtash to Ukraine. Nikolay Skoryk, MP from the Opposition Bloc stated that, acting on an instruction from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), UkSATSE (Ukrainian State Air Traffic Services Enterprise) has even closed its airspace to private planes in order to stop Firtash from returning to Ukraine.

“We connect this decision to the possible return to Ukraine of the well-known businessmen Dmytro Firtash. There was a similar situation in 2015, when Dmytro Firtash intended to fly to the congress of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine,” he said.

According to the Minister of Internal Affairs,Arsen Avakov, Firtash can also be tried in Ukraine, in the event of his return. The case involves the default on loan of Nadra Bank, which belonged to Firtash. The loan amounts to 5 million hryvnia ($190 000 USD). According to Avakov, the loan was taken on the personal guarantee of Dmytro Firtash. However, the businessman withdrew the money to the companies associated with him, the minister stated. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine also took an interest in the matter: she suspected the top management of Nadra Bank of bankrupting the financial institution. A pre-trial investigation was conducted upon appropriation of the bank’s property.

Aside from that, Firtash could be the defendant in a case concerning the embezzlement of funds at the Zaporozhye Titanium Magnesium Combine, which is part of Group DF. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested the director of the plant for the embezzlement of nearly 500 million hryvnia ($18.58 million USD).

In total, companies in Dmytro Firtash’s group OSTCHEM face charges of causing the state losses of 5,742 billion hryvnia.

Following the ruling of the Austrian court, it was mentioned in Ukraine that if Firtash is extradited to the US, his case will become a second “Lazarenko case”, and will affect many people inside of Ukraine, and more than that. “The Firtash extradition saga is setting in motion many interesting political processes in Ukraine,” MP Boryslav Bereza wrote on his Facebook page.

  Ukraine, Firtash