Bailed billionaire Firtash blasts 'unfounded' charges as 'absurd'

04 April 2014 12:38 Source:ICIS News

LONDON (ICIS)--Less than 48 hours after being indicted on bribery and corruption charges in the US, the owner and founder of Ukrainian fertilizer major Group DF, Dmitry Firtash, on Friday blasted the allegations as "completely absurd and unfounded".

In a strongly-worded statement on his company's website, the 48-year-old said he is sure all of the "false allegations will be dismissed" and claimed: "It is apparent that all of that, including the US extradition request, is politically motivated."

The Ukrainian oligarch and head of the ammonia, urea and ammonium nitrate (AN) manufacturer was detained in Vienna on 12 March at the request of US authorities on corruption charges relating to a 2006 investment project.

He was released from custody in Austria on 21 March after posting bail of $174m and must remain in the country until the end of extradition proceedings to the US.

Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) accused Firtash of paying at least $18.5m in bribes to Indian officials to win titanium mining licences in Andhra Pradesh province in 2006.

Five other people connected to the project have also been indicted but remain at large.

The DoJ said on Wednesday: "According to the indictment, Firtash was the leader of the enterprise and caused the participation of certain Group DF companies in the project. Firtash allegedly met with Indian government officials [...] to discuss the project and its progress, and authorised payment of at least $18.5m in bribes to both state and central government officials in India to secure the approval of licenses for the project.

"Firtash also allegedly directed his subordinates to create documents to make it falsely appear that money transferred for the purpose of paying these bribes was transferred for legitimate commercial purposes, and he appointed various subordinates to oversee efforts to obtain the licenses through bribery."

Responding to the allegations, Firtash added in his statement: "The allegations against me contained in the recent public statement released by the US DoJ are completely absurd and unfounded. I am sure that all of those false allegations will be dismissed. I respect the Austrian judicial system and will use all legal means to prove my innocence.

"Ukraine has become the battlefield for the struggle between the two largest and most influential geopolitical centres of the present day – Russia and the USA. I fell victim of this struggle and got drawn into its epicentre.

"Even though I am currently in Austria, the senior management of Group DF is in full control over my business. We are committed to safeguarding all of 100,000 jobs at my companies in Ukraine. The operations of all of Group DF's companies are well coordinated by a highly professional and experienced management team.

"I will not allow for my reputation to be ruined by malicious actions of my opponents, who are driven by political motives which have nothing in common with the interests of Ukraine and its people."

Group DF is the owner of the Ostchem Holding group for Ukrainian mineral fertilizer producers: Cherkassy Azot, Stirol Gorlovka, Severodonetsk Azot and Rivne Azot, which together represent the bulk of Ukrainian nitrogen fertilizer production.

Ammonia, urea and AN from these plants are marketed by Swiss-based NF Trading.

By Richard Ewing