June 24, 2021
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on June 23, “Congressional lawmakers are ratcheting up the pressure on the White House, demanding more be done to force the extradition of a powerful Ukrainian tycoon from Austria to the United States.
In a letter released by a bipartisan group of House of Representatives lawmakers on June 22, they also suggested that Austria’s judiciary had been corrupted by Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen.
The demand was the latest development in the long-running and politically charged case involving Firtash, who made a fortune in the murky industry of natural-gas trade between Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s and 2000s.
He was charged by U.S. prosecutors with participating in a bribery conspiracy in 2013, and has been fighting U.S. demands for his extradition from Austria, where he now lives.
In the letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland, the lawmakers — Democrats Marcy Kaptur and Mike Quigley and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick and Andy Harris — said Austria appeared to be dragging its feet on the U.S. request, and suggested Firtash had corrupted Austria’s judiciary.
‘We are concerned that Mr. Firtash has used his considerable wealth and malign influence to subvert that country’s legal system to evade extradition and the rule of law,’ the letter said.
Firtash was indicted by the United States in June 2013, accused of conspiring with five other people in 2006-10 to pay at least $18.5 million in bribes to Indian officials to acquire a titanium mine in India. The Ukrainian tycoon allegedly intended to sell part of the output to U.S. aerospace giant Boeing.
Austria’s Supreme Court in June 2019 upheld Firtash’s extradition but a lower court stayed the decision to give Firtash a chance to submit new evidence that could open the door to a retrial.
The hearing to determine whether Firtash can get a new trial has been delayed due to a change of judge and the coronavirus pandemic.
Firtash, who has denied reports of ties to organized crime groups in Russia and elsewhere, built his fortune on deals with Kremlin-controlled natural gas company Gazprom. The tycoon imported Russian energy at below-market prices, earning billions of dollars as he resold it to Ukraine at significantly higher prices, according to a Reuters investigation.
The lawmakers’ letter comes as the Biden administration makes fighting corruption a key pillar of its foreign policy, especially with respect to Ukraine.
The White House has already imposed sanctions on a host of politicians and businessmen around the world since taking power in January, including Ihor Kolomoyskiy, another top Ukrainian tycoon.
However, the administration has also suggested Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not doing enough to fight corruption. In April, a top U.S. State Department official, George Kent, expressed frustration that Ukraine had not done more; and he singled out Firtash, highlighting his much-maligned gas-import business.
Last week, Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council imposed financial penalties on Firtash, claiming he sold titanium to Russia for use by its defense industry. The tycoon denies the allegations.”