A court in Austria yesterday approved the extradition of Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash to the US, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of bribery and corruption.
The ruling overturned an earlier decision that the US government’s request for the oligarch’s extradition was politically motivated.
Firtash, who has been living in exile in Austria since the Ukrainian uprising in 2014, was detained on a European arrest warrant hours after the ruling was announced.
He was held in connection with a separate bid for his extradition submitted by the Spanish government, which wants to question him over allegations he headed up a money laundering operation in the Catalonia region.
A spokeswoman for Austrian prosecutors said it was too early to tell what implications Firtash’s detention might have on US extradition proceedings, and was unable to provide additional details about the Spanish request.
In November last year, a court in Barcelona demanded the extradition of the billionaire, who it accused of heading up the alleged money laundering operation.
Firtash denies the allegations made against him by both countries, maintaining he has been targeted by US authorities over his links with ousted Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych.
US prosecutors accuse Firtash of paying millions of dollars in bribes to officials in India via American banks in an effort to win titanium mining licences – accusations the oligarch dismisses as “absolutely untrue”.
The judge who ruled on the US bid for Firtash’s extradition yesterday said American prosecutors had produced further evidence in support if their case against the businessman since the previous Austrian court ruling on the matter.
“The [appeal against the previous decision] has been granted,” Judge Leo Levnaic-Iwanski said.
“This does not mean that somebody is being pre-judged as guilty, but rather that it will be decided in another country whether they are guilty or innocent.”
Firtash was first arrested in connection with the US allegations in Vienna in 2014, but was freed after posting €125 million bail – a record in Austria.
During a lower court hearing, a judge ruled there was likely a political motive behind his detention, writing: “The aim was clearly to prevent [Firtash] from undermining the political interests of the US.”
Police in Austria insisted this was not the case and the US Department of Justice appealed the decision.
Speaking before yesterday’s verdict, Firtash’s lawyer reiterated the accusation that the US charges against his client are politically motivated.
“We must not allow Austria to become a stooge for the political world power of the USA,” Dieter Boehmdorfer told the court.
Firtash is Ukraine’s 16th richest man, with an estimated wealth of €238 million, according to Forbes Ukraine.