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Ukrainian oligarch Dymitro Firtash faces US extradition over bribery charges

A Vienna court has approved a US extradition request for Ukrainian oligarch Dymitro Firtash. Once an ally of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, Firtash is accused of bribing officials in a bid to secure mining licenses.

An Austrian appeals court has authorized the extradition of Ukrainian oligarch Ddymitro Firtash to the United States, where he faces charges of bribing Indian officials to secure titanium mining licenses in 2006.

The decision marks a shock overturning of an April 2015 ruling, when a lower court in Vienna dismissed the request on the basis that it was "politically influenced." Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, was previously an ally of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and also enjoyed links to Moscow.

US authorities demanded his extradition on the grounds that the conspiracy involved using US financial institutions, travel to and from the US, and use of US-based communications, such as computers, telephones and the internet.

The court's decision to approve his extradition came as a shock, with Firtash having said shortly before the ruling that he would "return home immediately" after the verdict. 

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While Tuesday's ruling cannot be appealed, the final decision on whether to hand Firtash over to US authorities rests with Austria's justice minister.

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. However, he was forced to remain in the country until the appeal ruling.

Firtash is also wanted by Spanish authorities on suspicion of links to organized crimes and laundering over 10 million euros. A spokeswoman for Vienna's prosecutors said it was too early to tell how the implementation of the European arrest warrant would impact on Tuesday's extradition ruling.

One of Ukraine's richest men

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.

He went on to build a business empire, known as Group DF, which enjoyed influential links to Ukraine's energy, chemicals, media, banking and property sectors. The group also boasts commercial operations in other countries including Germany, Italy and Austria.

The Ukrainian magnate backed Yanukovych's successful 2010 election campaign, which saw him go on to expand his business interests. However, when Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014 during the Euromaidan protests, Firtash's arrest in Austria quickly followed.

Prosecutors have denied any link or political motivation for the arrest, saying "the crimes Firtash is accused of have no political character."

dm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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