Extradition of Ukrainian fugitive oligarch Dmytro Firtash from Austria to the United States is postponed indefinitely. The lawyers provided new evidence that the Firtash case has political motivation - now they will be considered by the court. "Apostrophe" inquires what is happening to the extradition of Firtash and whether the oligarch has a chance to stay in Austria.
Who is Firtash, and why is he in Austria
The owner of the international group of companies Group DF, which specializes in the chemical, titanium, gas industry and in the banking sector, Dmytro Firtash was also the majority owner of one of the largest television groups "Inter". In 2010, he sponsored the election campaign of the former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. He criticized Yulia Tymoshenko, including after the elections. During the Euromaidan, he called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The oligarch is accused of financing organizations involved in the annexation of Crimea.
In 2014 Firtash was arrested in Vienna, but soon he was released on bail of $172 million - now he is under home arrest. Prosecutors in the Us state of Illinois claim that Firtash tried to bribe Indian government officials to conclude a bargain on the extraction of titanium for the Boeing - metal was going to be sold in the United States. Since Boeing is an American company, the US demands to give them a Ukrainian oligarch.
"The structures of Firtash and one of the American businessmen acquired a plant in Hungary - perhaps a metallurgical plant. Subsequently Firtash was cheated. When he started to sue or to threaten his partner from the United States with court proceedings, a Hindu appeared, who said that this man offered him $ 15 million. Therefore, this case is thinly veiled. But we know many such cases, which ended with sentences. Legends of American justice are legendary, unfortunately," said the interlocutor of "Apostrophes" close to the environment of Firtash.
On October 24, 2018, the EU court of Justice reviewed the evidence and gave Austria permission to resolve the issue at its discretion. In Vienna, they said when making the decision they will take into account the national interests of the country. Firtash is facing 50 years in prison in the United States.
On July, 16 the saga of the extradition of the oligarch seemingly ended. Austrian justice Minister Clemens Jabloner gave permission for the extradition of Firtash. But the trial in Austria resumed.
Court trial until the end of the year
The lawyers of the Ukrainian oligarch provided the court with an array of evidence that the requirement of the extradition of Firtash is politically motivated. According to the agreement signed between Washington and Vienna, the extradition of suspects in this case is prohibited.
"Everything indicates to the fact that Dmytro Firtash did not commit a crime in India. There are no charges against him. That's first. And secondly, the United States have a high level of political motivation. This, as a rule, is the engine of the extradition process - the United States used to interfere in the affairs of states around the world, to influence the justice of other countries. Austrian courts are resisting this and we hope for them," said the lawyer of Firtash Dieter Bemdorfer.
The court will consider a new array of evidence until the fall. If the decision is taken against Firtash, lawyers can appeal - and then everything will be delayed until the new year.
"If the judge admits that the political interest does exist, lawyers have the right to demand to begin the trial from scratch - and the whole process, which lasted 5 years, will not be taken into account," Austrian journalist Christian Verschütz, familiar with the judicial red tape for the extradition of Firtash told o"Apostrophe".
What are these new materials that can cancel the extradition of Firtash? The oligarch's lawyers refused to comment this case to "Apostrophe", explaining that they must coordinate the answers with their client.
"This trial has nothing fundamental that connects Firtash and Ukraine. And the lawyers want to prove that Firtash who is accused of corruption in India did not do anything," Verschütz said.
It is worth noting that the political reason is discussed in Austria for a long time. The district court of Vienna in April 2015 even ruled in favor of Firtash - that the issue of extradition is more or less politically motivated. The German edition of DW, citing its sources in court, noted that the lawyers again appealed to the District court, but the case will be considered by another court.
At the same time, the United States also gave evidence - it says that Firtash personally ordered to transfer $18.5 million through the accounts of a number of firms to the account of a Trustee of one of the Indian officials.
"Now there is a situation: the Minister of justice of Austria decided that extradition is possible, and the judge in Vienna decided that it is impossible until the issue of political motivation is resolved. This requires a completely new trial. Now we have to wait what decision will the court in Vienna make," Verschütz commented.
And although the journalist claims that Austria has no sympathy for Firtash, and most Austrians have not even heard about this, of course there are warnings.
"Austrian Minister of Justice Clemens Jabloner insisted on extradition. But at the same time, the majority in the government believes that the extradition of Firtash may have negative consequences for the government itself, especially on the eve of the elections on September 29 this year. Therefore, I think we are talking about an attempt to take a Solomon's decision," Ukrainian political scientist Kostia Bondarenko said.
He added that Austrian politicians feel some pressure from the United States.
"When Firtash case was opened, he was considered an important witness in matters relating to Russia and Putin. He can talk about business circles connected with Russia. What do they want him to say? This question should be addressed to American investigators," Bondarenko said.
In this situation, everything depends on the lawyers. After all, the decision to extradite passed all stages of the proceedings and was signed by the Minister of Justice.
It is impossible to escape
Firtash's lawyers are trying to get him transferred to Germany. There he is involved in the case of illegal data collection and bribery of officials. The oligarch is accused of trying to bribe local officials in the security service and the police to learn about the course of the case against him in the United States. The oligarch paid them about €750 thousand. This trial continues since 2016.
Lawyers hope that they will manage to return the client to Germany and to "process" him as the witness at court against officials to whom he gave bribes. Thus Firtash will be able to get under the witness protection program and he will not be extradited to the United States.
However, the oligarch will not be able to leave Austria because he does not have a passport.
"Firtash will not be able to get to Germany and use the witness protection program, because his passport is in the Austrian law enforcement agencies. Therefore, he is unable to travel. The Austrian court cannot transfer him to Germany because it is a completely different trial. It is impossible that another court has decided the issue of extradition," Verschütz said.
The same opinion is shared by the expert of the "Ukrainian Institute of the future" Igar Tyshkevich.
"The Austrian court can not transfer Firtash simultaneously to two countries - to the USA and Germany," Tyszkiewicz said in a comment to Apostrophe, adding that with a probability of 80% the oligarch will het to American law enforcement.
The value of Firtash
Tyszkiewicz believes that the corruption component of titanium mining in India, where Firtash is supposedly involved is nonsense. The share of titanium produced by the company of Firtash in Ukraine is only 2% of the world market. Therefore, it is impossible to consider the oligarch an influential player on this field. However, both the US and Austria are interested in economic and political insights about Ukraine.
"The range of interests can be very large - from the state of the Ukrainian gas transportation system to the real condition of our energy, mobilization potential or the state of orders that exist at our plants," Tyszkiewicz said.
In any case, Austria will act in accordance with its national interests. Firtash can also offer the Austrians the information, the value of which will prevail over the consequences of a possible conflict with Washington. Then Vienna will decide not to extradite him.
"Firtash is not a poor man. But it should not be a bribe, it should be some legal information. On the real state of the Ukrainian economy, financial and industrial groups, their relationship with financial and industrial groups of other countries - Belarus, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia," Tyszkiewicz said. Also Firtash can provide dirt on the Ukrainian politicians.
"An oligarch cannot be an oligarch if he has no compromising evidence against the political elite of his state. It is possible to take the list of leaders of parties on the website of the CEC and o tick each surname - he has compromising evidence on this or that person - starting from the one who stole candy from someone in kindergarten and ending with the one who shot an extra bird during the hunt. And between these events there can be economic and family life," the expert said.
Bondarenko added that, despite Firtash's connections in business and political circles, he could be in danger from both on the part of USA and Russia.
We can only guess what kind of danger it is.