VIENNA (Reuters) - Billionaire Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash declared he was innocent of bribery and money-laundering as an Austrian court began deliberating on Thursday whether to extradite him to the United States to face corruption charges.
Allegations that he had conspired to bribe Indian government officials were “absolutely untrue”, he told the court in Vienna.
A U.S. grand jury in 2013 indicted Firtash, 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.
The 49-year-old, one of Ukraine’s most influential oligarchs, was arrested in Vienna a year ago at the request of U.S. authorities, who have been investigating him since 2006.
He was released from detention in March 2014 after posting bail of 125 million euros ($140 million).
The detention of Firtash, whose business concerns in gas trading and chemicals thrived under Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, coincided with a sharp escalation in Ukraine’s political crisis, which pits the West against Russia.
Firtash’s legal team argued that the criminal case was politically motivated, and intended to exert pressure on a man Washington saw as a representative of Russian interests in Ukraine and a disruptive factor in its politics.
They argued the case should be thrown out on several grounds, including a lack of evidence or U.S. jurisdiction and the fact that charges against him were not crimes in Austria.
The judge cleared the courtroom to hear video testimony from witnesses in Ukraine. It was unclear when he would rule.
Firtash’s legal team traced a timeline in which they said he had aroused U.S. suspicions from 2004 by founding a venture with Russia’s Gazprom to deliver gas to Ukraine. Firtash said he had acted as an honest broker to help end wrangling over prices.
Firtash, wearing a gray suit and red tie, followed the case attentively via interpreters who whispered into his ear.
(Corrects date of indictment to 2013 from 2014 in paragraph 3)
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Kevin Liffey