Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, one of the wealthiest men in the country and someone allegedly linked to a Russian mobster, was arrested in Vienna, Wednesday night on charges of bribery and other offenses, the AP said, adding that he was being held pending extradition proceedings. Bloomberg reported he is also facing charges of forming a criminal organization.
Firtash was detained following a request from U.S. authorities, according to Reuters. He has reportedly been under investigation by the FBI since 2006.
"Based on years of investigations by the FBI and an arrest warrant issued by a U.S. federal district court, Vienna prosecutors issued a national order to detain the businessman," Austria's Federal Crime Agency said in a statement. A spokesman for the agency said the order to take Firtash into custody came last month.
The 48-year-old oligarch has close ties with Russia as well as interests in a variety of industries, including gas, chemicals, media and banking. Firtash also enjoyed significant influence during the reign of the recently toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. Firtash is a co-owner of RosUkrEnergo AG, which was once Ukraine’s only importer of Russian natural gas, Bloomberg said. He controls these assets through a company he co-founded called Group DF, which has 100,000 workers in Ukraine.
Group DF recently stated on its website that Ukraine’s business community should engage in talks with their counterparts in Russia to resolve the two nations’ dispute over the region of Crimea, which Russian military forces now occupy.
The Kyiv Post newspaper of Ukraine reported that, citing Austrian police sources, the arrest had no connection to the political turmoil currently engulfing Ukraine. Ukraine's Interior Ministry did not issue any warrant for Firtash's arrest, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Firtash has an estimated net worth of $2.3 billion.
The Post also noted that Firtash’s name figured prominently in Wikileaks, which released secret diplomatic cables and communications of the U.S. State Department in 2010. According to leaked cables, in December 2008 between then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor wrote that Firtash said he “needed permission” from Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to conduct business in the Ukraine during the 1990s. Firtash later denied making such remarks. Mogilevich is now a fugitive and believed to be hiding in Moscow.
However, Reuters said that Firtash was not named on an initial list compiled by the European Union of Ukrainians who were suspected of misusing state funds and violating human rights, thereby leading to a freeze of their assets.
In a bizarre side note, Firtash also has links to the University of Cambridge where he has made generous donations.
According to the university itself, the Cambridge Ukrainian studies department was introduced in 2008 with Firtash’s financial support, with additional “benefaction” made in 2010 to permanently establish two key academic posts: a lecturer in Ukrainian studies and a lector in Ukrainian language. Firtash also helped to establish the Cambridge-Ukraine Studentships Program, which finances five Ukrainian students on one-year masters-level courses at Cambridge.
“This gift has ensured that Cambridge will be a vibrant home for the study of Ukraine for many generations to come,” said Professor Simon Franklin, head of the School of Arts and Humanities at Cambridge. “Mr. Firtash has opened up new possibilities for teaching and research at the University of Cambridge.”
On Firtash’s own website, which is still accessible as of Thursday morning in the U.S., he said that he was the first Ukrainian to join the Guild of Benefactors of the University of Cambridge for his “outstanding contributions into the research and cultural development of the University.”
The invitation ceremony was hosted by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, husband of Queen Elizabeth).