VIENNA (AP) — An Austrian court on Thursday ruled against a U.S. extradition request for a Ukrainian oligarch suspected of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Indian officials, saying the U.S. move was at least partially politically motivated and not supported by sufficient evidence.
The ruling came after more than 12 hours of proceedings. The prosecution said it would appeal.
Judge Christoph Bauer said U.S. officials did not supply all the documents requested by the court as evidence, while court spokeswoman Christina Salzborn said the case was “also politically motivated.”
Firtash was indicted in Chicago by a U.S. grand jury two years ago for allegedly paying off the officials through U.S. banks in a failed attempt to secure titanium mining rights in India. Arrested last year in Vienna, Firtash posted bail of 125 million euros (nearly $140 million) shortly afterward, leaving him free but unable to leave Austria.
Court officials said Thursday the bail would remain in effect but Firtash could leave Austria on condition that he was reachable through his lawyers.
One of Ukraine’s most influential businessmen, Firtash, 49 is well connected both in Moscow and with Ukrainian politicians opposed to the Kremlin. He earned millions of dollars in natural gas trading under deposed pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
His lawyers claimed that his arrest in Austria at a time of political turmoil in Ukraine was politically motivated — an argument also made Thursday in court by Firtash, who described the accusations as “totally absurd.”
Kim Nerheim, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, declined any comment on the Austrian ruling.
AP video journalist Philipp Jenne in Vienna and AP writer Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed.
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