Indicted Ukrainian billionaire says in video he’s at center of ‘political power play’
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter April 3, 2014 1:32PM
Ukrainian billionaire businessman Dmytro Firtash, 48, was indicted in Chicago’s federal court with bribing Indian government officials in a major international sting. Firtash allegedly conspired to pay at least $18.5 million in bribes to government officials in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to secure the rights to mine titanium minerals. | Photo from www.dmitryfirtash.com
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:50AM
Indicted Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash fired back at Chicago’s federal prosecutors Thursday, claiming the case against him is “absurd” and “politically motivated.”
And in a video posted on his website, Firtash says in Russian that he’s caught at the center of a “political power play” between the Russians and the U.S. over the fate of his homeland, according to an English translation provided to the Sun-Times by Firtash’s representative.
An indictment unsealed Wednesday alleges the 48-year-old industrialist and oligarch spearheaded an international titanium mining racket, conspiring to pay bribes of $18.5 million to Indian politicians in return for mining rights.
Firtash and five codefendants who all remain at large overseas allegedly hoped to make $500 million a year by selling the titanium, including to Chicago-based Boeing.
But in the video — recorded Thursday in Austria, where he is free on bail of $174 million while fighting extradition to Chicago — Firtash said that “the accusations leveled against me . . . are completely absurd and unfounded.
“I am sure that all of these false allegations will be dismissed. They are, and in particular the U.S. extradition request, clearly politically motivated.”
Experts on the unfolding geopolitical crisis in Ukraine have speculated that should he decide to cooperate with the FBI, Firtash, who was closely involved in Russian state gas business Gazprom’s deals in Ukraine, could provide evidence of corrupt deals involving high-placed Russian insiders.
And Firtash’s arrest in Vienna last month came as the U.S. was putting pressure on Russian leader Vladimir Putin to reverse his policy over Crimea, which Russia annexed after Firtash’s Russian-backed ally Viktor Yanukovych was booted from the presidency by pro-Europeans.
Firtash said in his video Thursday that “Ukraine has become the battlefield for the two biggest global players of Russia and the USA. And I have ended up in the center of this political power play.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office denied last month that the case is linked to recent events in Ukraine but declined to comment Thursday.
Though Firtash’s indictment was only unsealed Wednesday, it was returned by a grand jury in Chicago last summer, long before the Ukrainian troubles began, they have pointed out.