Austrian court rejects Spanish extradition request for Ukrainian tycoon Firtash

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian court has rejected a Spanish extradition request for Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, potentially paving the way for the businessman to face bribery allegations in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash arrives at court in Vienna, Austria, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

A Vienna appeals court in February overturned a lower court’s ruling that Firtash should not be extradited to the United States because the request was politically motivated due to Firtash’s links with Russia. It said the U.S. bribery accusations were purely criminal in nature.

The Spanish extradition request linked to money laundering allegations came on the same day as that appeal was over-ruled.

Firtash, who denies wrongdoing, is a former supporter of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich. Firtash made a fortune selling Russian gas to the Kiev government.

Firtash retains influence in Ukraine thanks to his part-ownership of Inter, a top television channel, and his gas distribution and fertilizer businesses.

“The request from Spain has been rejected,” a spokeswoman for the Vienna criminal court said on Wednesday.

The judge in charge had not received all the information he had asked the Spanish authorities to provide, the spokeswoman said. The Spanish High Court declined to comment.

A U.S. grand jury indicted Firtash in 2013, along with a member of India’s parliament and four others, on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to minerals used to make titanium-based products.

Prosecutors in Vienna, acting on behalf of Spain, have two weeks to appeal the rejection of the request, the Austrian court spokeswoman said.

It is unclear what impact the rejection of the Spanish request will have on Firtash’s case in the United States, but a judicial source said it was unlikely that the U.S. extradition process would proceed before the Spanish issue was resolved.

Firtash’s spokespeople were not immediately available for comment.

Firtash has said he would return to Ukraine, if allowed to.

Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Alison Williams