An Ukrainian oligarch, who is one of the wealthiest men in his country, along with five other businessmen of different nationalities, were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice, or DoJ, on Wednesday of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Indian government officials between 2006 and 2010 to win titanium mining rights in southeastern India.
The federal indictment by the DoJ charged Dmytro Firtash for allegedly routing through U.S. banks a part of the $18.5 million in bribes allegedly paid to procure a license to mine for titanium in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh as part of a project that was expected to generate $500 million in annual sales. Firtash, 48, was arrested in Vienna last month on a warrant issued by the FBI, and was released from custody on a bail of $175 million, while five of the other defendants were charged with a “conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), among other offenses.”
“The charges against six foreign nationals announced today send the unmistakable message that we will root out and attack foreign bribery and bring to justice those who improperly influence foreign officials, wherever we find them,” Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil, said in a statement, released Wednesday by the DoJ.
The prosecutors accuse Firtash of ordering subordinates at his company, Group DF, to prepare false documents to facilitate the money transfer. The other defendants in the case include Andras Knopp, 75, a Hungarian entrepreneur; Suren Gevorgyan, 40, another Ukrainian citizen; K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, 65, an Indian politician; Gajendra Lal, 50, an Indian business executive; and, Periyasamy Sunderalingam, 60, a businessman from Sri Lanka.
"It is not a coincidence that the U.S. is trying to extradite our chairman at the moment when Mr. Firtash is needed for the economic and political reconstruction of Ukraine," Group DF deputy chairman Robert Shetler-Jones said, according to Reuters.
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According to the Wall Street Journal, Firtash was a major player in the sale of Russian gas to Ukraine, as he was the co-owner of RosUkrEnergo, which continued the gas trade until 2009. U.S. prosecutors are also reportedly investigating the alleged corruption under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, with whom Firtash reportedly had a close relationship.
“The indictment lists 57 transfers of funds between various entities, some controlled by Group DF, in various amounts totaling more than $10.59 million beginning April 28, 2006, through July 13, 2010,” the DoJ statement read.
The Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday that Group DF, through the Indian project, was expected to sell titanium to various companies including The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA), but the DoJ does not mention the company’s name, except to refer to a Chicago-based organization as "Company A" in its statement.
Chicago-based Boeing, in a statement issued in March, had said that while it had entered into a discussion with Bothli Trade AG, an affiliate of Group DF, to buy a product called "titanium sponge," the airplane maker never pursued the deal further, Bloomberg reported, adding that the company declined to comment on the latest DoJ allegations.
The U.S. government is seeking to forfeit Firtash’s interests in Group DF and its assets, including 18 businesses registered in the British Virgin Islands and 127 companies registered in the UK, Germany and Switzerland. The U.S. is also seeking to seize 41 bank accounts from the six defendants along with a total payment of $10.6 million.
“This case is another example of the FBI’s willingness to aggressively investigate corrupt conduct around the globe” Robert J. Holley, the FBI's special agent-in-charge, said in the statement, adding: “With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, both foreign and domestic, we will continue to pursue those who allegedly bribe foreign officials in return for lucrative business contracts.”