Smiling in a spotless tuxedo, billionaire Dmytro Firtash presents himself as the picture of the modern oligarch on his slick personal website.
With medals for philanthropy, a glamorous wife and pals in the Kremlin, he boasts an uplifting tale of his rise from poverty following the Soviet Union’s collapse.
But leaked diplomatic cables allege he also has ties to Russian gangsters.
And behind the suave facade, the Ukrainian industrialist is hiding another dirty secret, the feds allege — he’s the boss of an international titanium-mining racket.
Seemingly ripped from the pages of a James Bond script, a wild federal indictment unsealed in Chicago on Wednesday plainly casts Firtash, 48, as a jet-setting villain.
With references to Swiss bank accounts, bribes for corrupt Indian politicians and links to Chicago-based airplane manufacturer Boeing, experts say it has potential implications for both the unfolding geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and for Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s pals.
Arrested last month in Vienna at the request of the U.S., Firtash conspired with five men including an Indian politician to pay bribes of $18.5 million for titanium-mining rights in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the indictment alleges.
U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon said it proves that “Criminal conspiracies that extend beyond our borders are not beyond our reach.”
The potential profits made the typical Chicago corruption case seem like small potatoes. According to the indictment, Firtash and his co-defendants hoped to make $500 million a year selling the titanium, including sales to Boeing.
Though Boeing is identified only as “Company A” in the indictment, it acknowledged Wednesday that it signed a memorandum of understanding with a Swiss business controlled by Firtash in 2006 to conduct a study on sourcing titanium.
But Boeing “never pursued” the deal and has “never done business” with Firtash beyond that, Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers said.
The charges were filed under seal last summer and predate the recent political upheaval in Ukraine, which saw Firtash’s Russian-backed ally Viktor Yanukovych booted from the presidency.
Still, Firtash’s supporters claimed his arrest is political.
“It is not a coincidence that the US is trying to extradite our chairman at the moment when Mr. Firtash is needed for the economic and political reconstruction of Ukraine,” Robert Shelter-Jones, of Firtash’s company, Group DF, said in an emailed statement. “This is an abuse of the Austrian justice system for ulterior political motives.”
U.S. interest in Firtash could go well beyond the indicted scheme, agreed Mikhail Korchemkin, of Pennsylvania-based East European Gas Analysis.
Firtash was deeply involved in a corrupt deal the Russian state gas exporter Gazprom did in Ukraine and could implicate Gazprom bosses if he cooperates with the FBI, Korchemkin said. Putin’s protege, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is a former Gazprom chairman.
“The whole deal was a fraud,” Korchemkin said. “And anything involving Gazprom is big news in Ukraine.”
In 2008, Firtash was accused of wrongdoing in a leaked diplomatic cable sent by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor, who called Firtash “one of Ukraine’s most wealthy and notorious oligarchs” and suggested he had ties to Russian organized crime figure Semyon Mogilevich.
And in a 2010 cable, Taylor wrote that Firtash “acknowledged ties to . . . Mogilevich, stating he needed Mogilevich’s approval to get into business in the first place.”
But in a statement posted on his website last month, Firtash said, “I am convinced in my innocence. “This incident is the result of a misunderstanding and will be resolved in the nearest future.”
He remains free on bail in Austria after posting an astonishing $174 million bond, and he faces extradition to the U.S.
His five co-defendants — a Hungarian, a fellow Ukrainian, a Sri Lankan, and two Indians, including member of parliament K.V.P. Ramachandra, 65, remain at large.