Exclusive interview: Ukrainian businessman fights Chicago extradition as war rages on

Dmitry Firtash denies any attempt to influence American politics

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner via WLS logo
Thursday, June 16, 2022
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A Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash is fighting extradition to Chicago on racketeering conspiracy charges.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In an exclusive interview, Dmitry Firtash, a powerful Ukrainian oligarch facing bribery-related federal charges in Chicago, sat down with ABC7 Investigative Reporter Chuck Goudie.

"I am positive the truth is on our side and I'm sure we will be able to defend ourselves," said Firtash.

Firtash spoke exclusively with the I-Team from Vienna, Austria through a translator. Since his arrest in 2014, he's been required to stay at his home there and has been fighting extradition to the U.S. on racketeering and bribery-related charges. The powerful Ukrainian businessman told the I-Team that if extradited, he's prepared to "stand in front of the court in Chicago" and answer questions from federal prosecutors.

"I don't feel I did anything wrong. I've said many times, I spoke and I said that the opinion of Chicago U.S. attorneys is unfair. It has no right to accuse me of this and I find it, the matter, to be empty," Firtash told Goudie.

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Firtash adamantly denied he was part of an alleged scheme to bribe government officials in India. He has never been to Chicago. Prosecutors said the scheme involved at least $18.5 million in corrupt payments linked to a titanium deal with Chicago-based Boeing, the aviation giant. Boeing is not charged with wrongdoing.

"I do not consider myself guilty. I don't believe I did anything and I'm sure I'll be able to successfully defend my reputation. I've been at it for eight years. Day to day, painstakingly from night to morning and from morning to night," Firtash said.

Firtash said prosecutors in Chicago "chose the wrong goal."

"I'm not the person on whom the country's budget and money need to be spent on my extradition. They must, for sure, have something better to do," Firtash told the I-Team.

Now, Firtash's home country of Ukraine is under attack by the Russians he once did business with. The I-Team has learned Firtash's vast business empire includes a chemical plant in eastern Ukraine, now apparently surrounded by Russian forces. Firtash told the I-Team that when the war began, federal prosecutors rejected his request to return to his Ukrainian homeland to help defend the country.

"Ukraine is my life. My home and my family. How can it affect you when someone comes into your home and breaks everything that exists?" Firtash said.

Firtash told the I-Team that his company has already evacuated thousands of people from the area. But, they are still trying to help hundreds of employees and local civilians trapped in the plant under bombardment.

"I hope they're alive. At least we would like to believe.. but, they think they are alive," Firtash said.

Since the war began, Firtash has denounced the invasion and called reports that he has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "lies and smears."

"Do you consider Vladimir Putin to be your enemy?" Goudie asked.

"I see him as the President of the Russian Federation that unleashed a war in Ukraine. The one who gave the command to attack our country," Firtash responded.

While Firtash has fought for years to clear his name and avoid facing prosecutors here in Chicago for years, the I-Team tracked when his name surfaced during the first Donald Trump impeachment investigation and the 2020 campaign.

"I never had any connections with either Donald Trump or with his people," Firtash said.

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During the Trump administration, Firtash did hire two Republican Washington, D.C. attorneys who unsuccessfully lobbied then-US Attorney General Bill Barr to drop his case. And Lev Parnas, who has been convicted of federal campaign finance violations, previously claimed that he sought Firtash's help to further Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden quest in Ukraine. Firtash strongly denied any attempt to influence American politics.

"Were you ever asked by Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt on Joe Biden?" Goudie asked.

"I don't know Mr. Giuliani nor his people. I've never discussed anything about digging up anything about anyone or any kind of information," Firtash responded.

Firtash and his attorneys have continued to wait to see how his extradition will play out in Austria. Firtash told the I-Team that if he's ever forced to come to Chicago, he's ready to face prosecutors.