Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Billionaire Firtash May Be Forced to U.S. to Face Bribery Charge

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Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, a former business partner of jailed Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, may soon be extradited to the U.S. to face charges that he bribed officials in India to develop a mine that would produce titanium for an American company.

Firtash has been free on bail in Austria since his arrest in 2014 and is fighting extradition. In a letter to a Chicago-based federal judge handling the criminal case, his lawyer said the Austrian Supreme Court was set to hold a hearing and rule on the U.S. request by June 25. A lower court approved the extradition, but the Austrian prosecutor opposes it.

“While it remains impossible to predict with certainty, Mr. Firtash’s Austrian lawyers thus believe that Mr. Firtash, under the present circumstances, could face extradition as early as the first week of July,” the billionaire’s U.S. lawyer, Dan Webb, told the Chicago judge in a letter delivered on Thursday.

Firtash, a onetime ally of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was arrested in Austria following his indictment on charges that he and others paid $18.5 million to Indian officials to secure the titanium project. According to U.S. authorities, the mine would generate $500 million in revenue annually, including from sales to the U.S. company, which wasn’t identified.

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Firtash has asked the U.S. judge to dismiss the indictment on grounds that an American court has no jurisdiction over him. Webb, in his letter, asked the judge to rule on the motion to dismiss before the decision by the Austrian high court, so that Firtash won’t need to travel to the U.S. unnecessarily.

“Without a ruling, Mr. Firtash faces the possibility of extradition to a country he has never before visited to face charges that he has argued this court should dismiss,” Webb said. “To allow the government to force Mr. Firtash to the United States without a ruling on his motion would constitute a miscarriage of justice.”

Firtash, who made his fortune in the natural-gas business, invested $25 million in a U.S. real-estate venture started by Manafort in 2008, according to court records filed in a New York federal lawsuit. The deal, which sought to develop a New York skyscraper, subsequently attracted the attention of U.S. investigators. Webb said in 2017 that Firtash never transmitted any funds to Manafort for any real estate investments.

Manafort is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for felonies, including financial crimes, illegal lobbying and witness tampering, uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

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