Charges detailed against Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash

April 2, 2014 1:44:50 PM PDT
One of Ukraine's most influential oligarchs and a major player in the sale of Russian natural gas to Ukraine allegedly spearheaded an international conspiracy to pay at least $18 million in bribes to mine titanium in India and sell it to a Chicago-based company, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Chicago.

Dmytro Firtash, 48, was arrested last month in Vienna on an American warrant, then later released on a more than $172 million in bail on assurances he wouldn't leave Austria. The indictment also names five others, including a member of India's parliament.

The indictment describes Firtash as the ringleader of the alleged conspiracy around the mining project in the eastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The enterprise was expected to generate more than $500 million annually from the sale of titanium, which is used in making cell phones, jet engines, jewelry and other products.

After Firtash's arrest in Vienna on March 12, U.S. authorities said they were seeking his extradition to Chicago. They also insisted the action against the businessman had nothing to do with rising tensions in Ukraine. Russia later annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.

Firtash's company, Group DF, said after his arrest that it appeared to be a mistake that "will be resolved in the nearest future."

The businessman was a supporter of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, and a significant figure in the sale of billions of dollars in Russian natural gas to Ukraine through RosUkrEnergo, a trading company he co-owns with Russian state gas company Gazprom.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday says an unidentified company based in Chicago would be supplied with up to 12 million pounds of what is called titanium sponge each year. In the court papers, the company is referred to only as "Company A."

So meticulous were they, federal officials said, that the conspirators would meet to calculate the proper amount of a bribe needed to spur some official act. Indian parliamentarian K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, 65, who was also an official at the time of the alleged scheme in Andhra Pradesh, is accused of agreeing to accept bribes to approve the necessary licenses.

Papers unsealed on Wednesday did not include attorneys' names for any of the defendants, including Rao. A message seeking comment from the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned.

Firtash and the other defendants face multiple charges, including racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. A conviction on just one count of racketeering conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as hefty fines.

All other defendants are still at large, U.S. prosecutors in Chicago said.

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