Austria holds Ukraine's Firtash for extradition

Reuters
Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, is seen in Kiev
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Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine's richest men, is seen in Kiev May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Maks Levin

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian court ordered Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash held for possible extradition to the United States and set bail of 125 million euros ($174 million) on Friday, a court statement said.

A final decision on whether to turn Firtash over to the United States was still pending, the statement said. The court will rule on that based on the U.S. extradition request and on information it was awaiting from U.S. authorities, it said.

Firtash was arrested in Vienna on Wednesday on suspicion of violating laws on bribery and forming a criminal organization in the course of foreign business deals. One of Ukraine's most influential oligarchs, he has close links to Russia through his gas interests.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has been looking into the case since 2006, Austrian officials have said, but they have not revealed any details of the allegations against him.

Firtash, 48, lodged an appeal against Friday's court order, which cited the risk that he might flee, the court said.

He would not be allowed to leave Austria should he post bail, which was set by taking into account his wealth and the gravity of the suspicions against him, it said.

A court spokesman said Firtash could also appeal against the court's final extradition ruling, and could take the case to Austria's justice ministry should an appellate court rule against him as well. He declined to estimate how long the process might last.

The detention of Firtash, whose business concerns in gas trading and chemicals thrived under ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, is the highest-profile arrest in the wake of political turmoil which installed new, pro-Western authorities in power in Kiev in February.

Firtash's company Group DF has said the FBI case appeared related to an investment project in 2006 which another group source said was in India.

The statement from Group DF said: "We know that the actions of the law enforcement organs of Austria in relation to Dmytro Firtash are not linked with the situation in Ukraine, not with the activity of the Group in Europe and America but relate to an investment project in 2006.

"We are sure that the present incident is a misunderstanding and will be resolved very soon."

Forbes Ukraine magazine last year put Firtash in 14th place on its Ukrainian rich list, setting his fortune at $673 million.

Firtash is not named on an initial European Union list of Ukrainians suspected of misusing state funds and violating human rights. The assets of those on the list are set to be frozen as a result of the crisis over Russia's incursion into Ukraine's Crimea.

($1 = 0.7180 Euros)

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Larry King)

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