Austria approves extradition of Ukrainian oligarch tied to Trump campaign aides

Austria approves extradition of Ukrainian oligarch tied to Trump campaign aides

Austria approves extradition of Ukrainian oligarch tied to Trump campaign aides

An Austrian court approved on Tuesday the extradition of Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash to the United States in a bribery case, overturning an earlier ruling that had said the USA request was politically motivated.

Dmytro Firtash is connected to former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort. He was indicted by a USA grand jury for his alleged involvement in paying $18.5 million in bribes to Indian officials, through US banks, to facilitate a $500 million titanium mining project in India.

The United States argues it has jursidiction because the conspiracy involved using USA financial institutions, travel to and from the U.S., and use of US-based communications - computers, telephones, and the internet.

Firtash was arrested in Austria in March 2014, but freed just 10 days later on a bail of 125 million euros ($130 million), a record for Austria.

He has denied all charges and maintained he was the victim of a smear campaign. His lawyers argued that he is caught up in a larger battle over the future of Ukraine, which is fighting a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern regions.

Firtash is also wanted by Spanish authorities on suspicion of links to organized crimes and laundering over 10 million euros.

Shortly after Tuesday's court ruling however, he was taken into custody on what prosecution spokeswoman Nina Bussek said was a warrant from Spanish law enforcement officials.

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"We will be taking all appropriate steps to appeal this decision - including, in Austria through an appeal to the supreme court, as well as in Europe to the European Court of Human Rights", Boehmdorfer said in a statement.

A lower court in Vienna sided with the tycoon in April 2015 and rejected the USA request.

Firtash made his fortune importing gas into Ukraine from Russia and Central Asia through his former business group, Rosukrenergo, in collaboration with Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Firtash owns Group DF, a business empire involved in energy, chemicals, media, banking and property in Ukraine and other countries including Germany, Italy and Austria. However, when Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014 during the Euromaidan protests, Firtash's arrest in Austria quickly followed.

In its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court described the approval of the extradition as a procedural matter and said Firtash's guilt or innocence was a matter to be determined in the United States.

"He is very valuable not only as a defendant but as witness too". Although the final decision rests with the Austrian justice minister, Tuesday's ruling likely begins the process of extradition. In Tuesday's hearings, Firtash's lawyers denounced that as misleading and outdated.

"Mr. Firtash, a Ukrainian, is charged concerning a project in India that was never completed - a project entirely outside of the Unites States that had no effect on the United States and in which the United States has no legitimate interest".

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