Dmytro Firtash Arrested: Ukrainian Businessman Detained at US Behest

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Friday, 14 Mar 2014 10:06 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Dmytro Firtash, a billionaire Ukrainian businessman with strong ties to Russian politicians, has been arrested in Vienna this week at the request of the U.S. government.

Firtash, 48, was influential in the administration of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted from his position this year. Firtash has involvement in everything from gas and chemicals to the media and banking sectors, according to Reuters. 

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The Kyiv Post reported that Federal Criminal Police Office spokesman Mario Hejk said that the FBI had been investigating Firtash since 2006, and he was arrested on suspicion of creating an organized crime group. 

"As a result of the FBI's years' long investigation and warrant issued by a U.S. district court, Vienna's district attorney issued a nationwide arrest order against the businessman," Hejl said.

Nina Bussek, a spokeswoman for the Vienna prosecutor's office, told Bloomberg News that the Vienna justice system will determine whether Firtash will stay in custody or go through extradition proceedings. Bussek said that the U.S. has already filed an extradition request. 

According to Wikileaks, Firtash showed with ties to Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who is on the FBI's most wanted list.

"In a Dec. 8, 2008, meeting, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor allegedly wrote that gas-trading mogul Firtash told of needing permission from alleged Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to do business in Ukraine during the lawless 1990s. Firtash denied the remarks," the Kyiv Post reported.

Firtash's is worth an estimated at $2.3 billion. Chemical producers Ostchem and Krymsky Tytan and number of regional energy supplying capacities are controlled by Group DF, which he owns.

Firtash also owns the banks Nadra and Pravex, Inter, one of the country's top television stations, the Ukrainian News information agency and several media outlets.

Firtash's past business ties with Yanukovych's chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin made him a major player in the administration.

Firtash's arrest is an "absolutely seismic development on so many different levels," Timothy Ash, Standard Bank analyst in London, told Kyiv Post.

"Firtash is probably in the top two of Ukrainian oligarchs in terms of wealth/influence across borders. Historically he had close ties to Russia via the energy sector, and perhaps even to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," he said.

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