An Austrian court has approved the extradition of Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash to the United States in a bribery case, overturning an earlier ruling that had said the US request was politically motivated.
Firtash denies the allegations. A former supporter of Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, Firtash made a fortune selling Russian gas to the Kiev government.
“(The appeal against the previous ruling) has been granted,” the judge 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.”
The judge said that since the previous Austrian court ruling the United States had offered further documents, based on witness statements, to strengthen its case against Firtash.
A grand jury indicted Firtash in 2013, along with a member of India’s parliament and four others, on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to minerals used to make titanium-based products.
Speaking before Tuesday’s verdict, Firtash’s lawyer Dieter Boehmdorfer reiterated the accusation that the United States was driven by politics in the case.
“We must not allow Austria to become a stooge for the political world power the USA,” Boehmdorfer told the court, adding that Firtash was a victim of a US strategy to minimise Russian influence in Ukraine.
Washington welcomed the ousting of the pro-Russian Yanukovich amid mass street protests in February 2014 and has backed his pro-Western successor, Petro Poroshenko. Yanukovych now lives in exile in Russia.
The Austrian judge dismissed Boehmdorfer’s charge of any US political agenda and said Firtash would get a fair trial in the United States.
Firtash, whose business concerns in gas trading and chemicals thrived under Yanukovich, has not returned to Ukraine since his initial detention in Vienna in March 2014.