Austrian court clears way for U.S. extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Firtash

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash arrives at court in Vienna, Austria, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a decision granting a U.S. request to extradite Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash, paving the way for him to face trial in the United States over bribery allegations.

Firtash, who denies wrongdoing, is a former business partner of veteran U.S. Republican political operative and convicted felon Paul Manafort. He is also a former supporter of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich. Firtash made a fortune selling Russian gas to the Kiev government.

A U.S. 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. Firtash denies wrongdoing.

The Austrian Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling by a lower court that he can be extradited despite his lawyers arguing that he is the victim of political “persecution” by the United States, which he has never visited.

Firtash made no comment as he left the court after the ruling. He is free on bail and, unlike after a previous extradition case, he was not arrested immediately after the verdict was handed down.

Austrian Justice Minister Clemens Jabloner, a civil servant who is part of a caretaker government in place until an election widely expected in September, must now decide whether to extradite Firtash.

His ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones

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