Dmytro Vasylovych Firtash (Ukrainian: Дмитро́ Васи́льович Фі́рташ; born 2 May 1965) is a Ukrainian businessman who heads the board of directors of Group DF. He was highly influential during the Yuschenko administration and Yanukovych administration. As a middleman for the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom, Firtash funneled money into the campaigns of pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.
Dmytro Vasylovych Firtash
2 May 1965
His many roles during the Yuschenko administration included: presidency of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine (FEU), an interest association of industrial enterprises that he chairs; chairmanship of the National Tripartite Social and Economic Council (NTSEC); co-chairmanship of Domestic and Foreign Investors Advisory Council under the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth and Sports of Ukraine; and membership in the Committee for Economic Reforms under the President of Ukraine.
Firtash was arrested by Austrian authorities in March 2014. In February 2017, the Vienna Court of Appeals ordered that Firtash be extradited to the United States, to face charges that he had secured a titanium extraction permit in India through $18.5 million in bribes.
As of August 2016,[update] Firtash has not returned to Ukraine following the Maidan revolution of 2014. The current status of many of his various offices and titles within Ukraine are not clear; specifically those not directly related to his own business holdings. To date, he has retained ownership of his assets within Ukraine, including those areas presently under Russian control.
Business career and assetsEdit
Firtash began his business career almost immediately after completing his military service. He founded a trading company in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, eventually moving to Moscow in the early 1990s.
In 2007, a private international group of companies, Group DF ("the Firtash group of companies") was formed to consolidate Firtash's business assets in different sectors. Presently, Group DF incorporates assets in the chemical industry, energy sector and real estate, and this consolidation effort is still underway.
In 2008, Firtash was involved with a firm owned by Paul Manafort in a $895 million project to redevelop the Drake Hotel in New York City into a spa and luxury mall to be called Bulgari Tower. According to court records, Firtash's firm had planned to invest $100 million in the project. The deal was never finalized.
In 2010, Firtash launched an effort towards consolidation of the Ukrainian nitrogen business. From September 2010 to September 2011, Firtash acquired ownership in 'Concern STIROL' (Horlivka), 'Severodonetsk Production Association Azot' and 'Cherkassy Azot'. In just over a year, the joint marketing strategy of the four fertilizer manufacturers owned by Firtash substantially strengthened its domestic market position.
Firtash is co-owner of RosUkrEnergo and controls much of the Ukrainian titanium industry. He gained control of former state-owned titanium assets across Ukraine in 2004. He also owns several chemical plants.[better source needed] In May 2011, Firtash took over Nadra Bank (at the time Ukraine's 11th largest bank). Nadra Bank had gone into default in 2009, but it has since restructured its foreign debt with significant write-offs.
Firtash became one of the leading investors in the power sector and chemical industry in Central and Eastern Europe. His plants and companies are present in Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Tajikistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria and Estonia.
Firtash bought back 100 percent of InterInter Media Group Limited from Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi on 1 February 2013, for his GDF Media Limited. Firtash had sold various channels to Khoroshkovskyi's U.A. Inter Media Group Ltd in June 2007 while consolidating other business interests. Firtash owns seven television channels as well as an influential Kiev-based Ukrainian News Agency. Firtash is also cited as having part ownership of SCL Group and thus Cambridge Analytica through various shell companies, by the U.S. documentary Active Measures, in its breakdown of the Russian–U.S. relationship before and after the 2016 election.
In April 2014, Firtash stated that despite the difficult conditions of doing business during Ukraine's political crisis, Ostchem enterprises, part of Dmitry Firtash's Group DF, continued to increase production. The investments directed to the development and modernization of Ostchem enterprises allowed significant increases in the production capacities of Rivne Azot, Stirol Concern, and Crimea soda plant in the first quarter of 2014.
In February 2014, the British Ministry of Defence sold the Brompton Road tube station to Firtash, who planned to convert the site into residential flats. As of August 2017,[update] the property remained unused because (according to his lawyer) Firtash "could not travel from Vienna to London due to a U.S. extradition request".
Business development initiativesEdit
Firtash unified the employers' organizations of Ukraine into a single powerful association, the Federation of Employers of Ukraine (FEU), which he presided over from November 2011 to September 2016. The FEU membership includes companies and enterprises collectively generating 70 percent of Ukraine's GDP. It represents employers' interests in the economic, social and labor relations with the government and trade unions at the national level.
In 2012, Firtash initiated the establishment of a venture investment fund, Bukovyna, aimed at supporting small enterprise. It has become Ukraine's first investment fund offering preferential lending support to small businesses in all sectors of the economy.
In spring 2002, Firtash ran for parliament as a member of the all-Ukrainian political association Women for the Future, under the patronage of Lyudmila Kuchma, a wife of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The party won 2.11% of the vote, below the 3% threshold required for represention in the Ukrainian parliament. In 2010, Firtash was involved in financing Viktor Yanukovych's presidential campaign. Firtash stated that he sincerely believed that Yanukovych would learn from the events of 2003–2004 and adopt different policies. Since 2011, they have been at odds on questions of public policy. In 2011, Firtash said that Yushchenko had planned good reforms, but Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had not allowed him to implement them.
In March 2014, on behalf of the business circles of Ukraine, Firtash addressed Aleksandr Shokhin, the Head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the wider business community concerning the situation in the political arena and urged Russian businessmen to stop the war between Russia and Ukraine.
On 3 April 2014, Firtash announced that he hoped the forthcoming presidential elections would overcome the chaos in Ukraine and strengthen the country on the international political scene. He said: "I will not allow for my reputation to be ruined by those who are driven by political motivations and are not interested in Ukraine and its people". On 11 April 2014, he urged big Ukrainian business to act according to the logic of "economic patriotism" and buy up goods in domestic companies.
A profile piece published about Firtash by the BBC on 30 April 2014, stated that because he acted as a go-between in east-west gas trade Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine prime minister at the time, made hostile attempts to push Firtash and his firm out of Ukraine-Russia gas control negotiations in 2009. Firtash said that the unstable situation in the east of Ukraine was coordinated by Tymoshenko, that she needed disorder to allow her to declare a state of emergency and disrupt the presidential elections which she had no chance of winning. He said that Tymoshenko had already practically usurped power due to the size of her parliamentary majority, with her party allies Oleksandr Turchynov and Arseniy Yatsenyuk heading the government.
In an interview given to the BBC in May 2014, Firtash protested his innocence, denied paying bribes and any links to organized crime. He reiterated his belief that he is a pawn in the geo-political struggle between the United States and Russia.
In May 2014, Firtash also stated that Ukraine must be strong, neutral and independent. He also pointed out that the top priority faced by Ukraine is to legitimize the government, which can only become a possibility after having the elections.
In September 2016, after serving as president of the FEU for five years, Firtash resigned the position of the FEU President.
While in Austria fighting extradition to the U.S., Firtash gave an interview to his own Inter TV channel in which he called for Ukrainian business to unite in support of the state to help it to overcome the economic crises. He also promised to provide funds to support the Ukrainian army. In April,[year missing] Ostchem enterprises, part of Firtash's group of companies, began supporting Ukraine's military forces.
Firtash is one of Ukraine's leading philanthropists, providing systemic support to education, science, theaters,[better source needed] museums, and historical, cultural and humanitarian projects. Firtash's enterprises have promoted the social and economic development of municipalities where they are based.
In 2008, on Firtash's initiative and with his financial support, the University of Cambridge (UK) established a Cambridge Ukrainian Studies program aimed at promoting the study of Ukraine's rich cultural heritage. Another charity initiative by Firtash enabled the establishment of Cambridge–Ukraine studentships, that make it possible for eligible students from Ukraine to seek a Master's degree at the University of Cambridge. Firtash is a member of the Guild of Cambridge Benefactors, which recognizes major benefactors of over £1 million to the University and Cambridge Colleges. After Firtash's arrest, human rights organizations criticized the university for accepting the funds.
Firtash made a sizable contribution to construction of the Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Holy Ascension Monastery in the village of Bancheny, Chernivtsi region. His support was recognized by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow who awarded Firtash with the Order of Venerable Serafim Sarowsky, 2nd Degree.
The celebration of the 75th anniversary of Kherson Regional Musical and Drama Theater largely owes its success to Firtash's endowment. His sponsorship enabled a major restoration of Chernivtsi Regional Musical and Drama Theater, on the theater's 80th anniversary.
Firtash is a controversial figure in Ukraine. According to documents uncovered during the United States diplomatic cables leak in 2010, Firtash told U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor of needing permission from alleged Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to do business in Ukraine during the lawless 1990s. The same documents suggest that Firtash also claimed to be friends with President Viktor Yushchenko. Firtash denied the remarks. Allegedly, Gazprom, a Russian natural-gas extraction company, had asked Mogilevich to oversee natural-gas deliveries from Russia to Ukraine via gas intermediary RosUkrEnergo. All parties deny connections with Mogilevich. Other cables said Firtash and Mogilevich were linked through offshore companies either by joint ownership through former spouses or through Firtash-headed companies in which Mogilevich's former spouse was the shareholder. It was also suspected that Raiffeisen Bank, an Austrian-based bank, was a front to legitimize RosUkrEnergo.
On 16 June 2009, Yulia Tymoshenko accused the other candidates in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election – Viktor Yushchenko, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Viktor Yanukovych – of sharing a single campaign headquarters financed by Firtash. She accused Firtash, who is a key contributor to Yanukovych, of fraudulently using New York real estate through which to launder money from Ukraine through the United States and then back to Ukraine to support various corrupt political activities and politicians. On 26 April 2011, Tymoshenko sued Firtash and RosUkrEnergo in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan, accusing them of manipulating an arbitration court ruling in Stockholm – the ruling had ordered Ukraine's state energy company, Naftogaz, to pay RosUkrEnergo 11 billion cubic meters of natural gas to compensate for fuel it had "expropriated" plus 1.1 billion cubic meters of gas as a penalty.
Certain analysts and Ukrainian politicians believe that Firtash is a secret force behind the sentencing of Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011, either for revenge or to hinder Ukraine's European Union integration for personal financial gain. Firtash was accused in a New York court of "masterminding" Tymoshenko's imprisonment; the case was dismissed in March 2013.
On 23 July 2013, brothers Ilya and Vadim Segal, the New York-based owners of Dancroft Holdings, brought charges in New York County Supreme Court against Firtash and Nadra Bank, then Ukraine's eighth-largest bank. The suit accuses Firtash, the bank's owner, of seizing their assets via "sham lawsuits" over debt, and of using his connections with President Viktor Yanukovich to guarantee the outcomes in court cases. The suit stated that the former head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, is a business partner of Firtash, together with head of the presidential administration Serhiy Lyovochkin, and former Ukrainian energy minister, Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko. According to the complaint, the SBU, in bringing charges against the Segals, was acting on behalf of Firtash.
Links between Firtash, Paul Manafort and President Trump's administration continue to make headlines with reports that the extradition case will test US/Russia relations.
In 2014, a special report by Reuters documented the Gazprom sold more than 20 billion cubic metres of gas at below market price enabling Firtash to make up to $3 billion during the deal. The report also notes the release of documents that prove Putin extended credit lines to Firtash of up to $11 billion which helped Firtash extend influence during the 2010 presidential election in Ukraine.
U.S. extradition requestEdit
On 13 March 2014, Austrian authorities arrested Firtash. U.S. law enforcement authorities sought to have Firtash extradited after a judge in Virginia issued a warrant for his arrest on bribery and other charges. A week later, Firtash was released on bail of €125 million (£105m, $172m), the largest in Austrian history. He said: "thankfully, I have the utmost confidence in the Austrian judicial system and will use all legal means to prove my innocence". He said U.S. authorities were making allegations that were "completely absurd and unfounded". In April, a U.S. grand jury in Chicago indicted Firash and five others under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on charges that included bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. The charges centered on a $18.5 million bribe offered to government officials in India related to titanium mining licenses, with the minerals destined for sale to Chicago-based Boeing.[a]
Denial of U.S. extraditionEdit
The Vienna Regional Criminal Court rejected the U.S. request for the extradition of Firtash on 30 April 2015. Judge Christoph Bauer said that the request for extradition was "politically motivated".
Bauer said that in the year since Firtash's arrest in Vienna, the U.S. authorities had not provided sufficient evidence that Firtash paid bribes in India, and in particular had not provided witness statements in support of its assertions. During the proceedings, Bauer had said that he did not doubt the veracity of the Americans' witnesses so much as whether they existed at all. A New York Times reporter described the decision as a "scathing rebuke of the Justice and State Departments", reflecting the diminished credibility of the United States authorities in the eyes of a European ally.
Attempted return to UkraineEdit
On 25 November 2015, German media reported that Firtash could return to Ukraine and participate in the FEU on 2 December. On 26 November, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry of Ukraine, Artem Shevchenko, said that the Interior Ministry had no criminal proceedings against Firtash, but there was a proceeding for the Ostchem group in which he was summoned as a witness.
On 28 November 2015, the head of the Ukrainian airspace administration instructed that airspace be closed to private aircraft, to prevent Firtash from returning. On 1 December, Firtash said that the Ukrainian government took unprecedented steps to disrupt his visit to Ukraine.
Court of Appeal ruling on U.S. extraditionEdit
On 21 February 2017, the High Regional Court of Vienna (Oberlandesgericht Wien) reviewed the appeal and ruled that it was allowed to extradite Firtash to the U.S. The final decision on the extradition was deferred to the Federal Minister of Justice of Austria.
Judge Leo Levnaic-Iwanski noted that U.S. authorities had provided additional documentation since the lower court had ruled against them. Firtash faces up to 50 years in prison and the seizure of all his assets. Immediately following the verdict, Firtash was arrested on a Spanish arrest warrant related to charges of money laundering.
Detention on Spanish and American ordersEdit
Vienna's Higher Regional Court issued its decision on December 19, citing insufficient documentation linking Firtash to alleged money laundering and organized crime. A court in Vienna has decided against extraditing Ukrainian oligarch Dymitro Firtash from Austria to Spain, saying Madrid had not provided enough proof linking Firtash to alleged crimes.
On 21 February 2017, a few minutes after the announcement of the High Court's decision, Austrian police detained Dmytro at the courthouse on the basis of an EU arrest warrant issued by Spain. The Spanish warrant was issued as part of an investigation into money laundering. The prosecutor's office in Vienna detained Firtash for 48 hours to determine its course of action.
On 23 February, Firtash was released from custody on the €125 million bail deposited in 2014. However, that same day he was arrested and held in custody in connection with the U.S. extradition request.
On 24 February, Vienna Regional Court dismissed the Vienna prosecutor's application to impose provisional detention pending surrender regarding the U.S. extradition case. The question where Firtash was to be extradited – to Spain or the United States – is in the jurisdiction of the Minister of Justice of Austria, Wolfgang Brandstetter.
In early September 2017, Yevhen Yenin, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, noted that Firtash's return to the Ukraine was "an unrealistic event". Proceedings to hear extradition cases from the United States and Spain would be lengthy. Yenin also noted, "there is a political side to the case. If we consider the level of Firtash's defense, it includes Austria's former justice minister."
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