An Austrian appeals court on Tuesday granted the request of U.S. prosecutors to extradite Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash to face trial on corruption charges. Firtash is alleged to have ties with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Critics of the Trump administration have pointed to Firtash’s one-time relationship with Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort as evidence of a cozy relationship between the White House and Russia.
According to Bloomberg News, Firtash was indicted in the United States on charges he was the ringleader of a conspiracy to pay $18.5 million to Indian officials in an effort to obtain the rights to operate a mining project in the country.
Lawyers for Firtash have denied the charges and claim he is essentially the victim of a geopolitical battle between the United States and Russia over the future of Ukraine.
“In February of 2014, the U.S. wanted to remove Mr Firtash from the geopolitical and from the Ukrainian domestic game,” defense lawyer Christian Hausmaninger reportedly said at the extradition hearing. “Mr. Firtash stood in the way of U.S. interests in Ukraine.”
Firtash was arrested in Austria only weeks after Yanukovych was forced to leave Ukraine amid widespread protests in his country over allegations of abuse of power and connections to Russia and Putin.
The connection to Manafort reportedly stems from a failed business deal in 2008 that involved an attempt to purchase and renovate the Drake Hotel in New York City for approximately $900 million. Some have alleged the deal was an attempt by Firtash to essentially legitimize ill-gotten gains he acquired through illegal means in Ukraine.
Firtash is not expected to come to the United States anytime soon, however. The extradition ruling is still subject to further appeal and ultimately has to be approved by Austrian Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter.
[Manafort image via screengrab]