US: Ukrainian Oligarch and his Associate are Tied to Russian Organized Crime

Prosecutors asked a US court to deny requests made by a Ukrainian oligarch and a Hungarian businessman to have racketeering and other charges against them dropped, calling the men "upper-echelon associates of Russian organized crime."

In documents filed Monday in an Illinois district court, US attorneys argued that motions by the defendants Dmitry (or Dmytro) Firtash and Andras Knopp to have indictments against them dismissed are "meritless."

DmitryFirtash PortraitDmitry Firtash (Photo: V.Diegtiar, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Firtash is an influential Ukrainian investor and the former president of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine. He is accused of leading an international racketeering scheme to introduce millions of pounds of illegally obtained goods, namely titanium, to the US market, according to the court filing.

Knopp is an associate of Firtash’s who conspired with him to bribe public officials in India at least US$ 18.5 million to get approval for a mining project, according to prosecutors.

Most of the mined titanium was then intended to be sold to a company headquartered in Chicago, which the Chicago Tribune has identified as the giant aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Firtash was arrested in March 2014 in Vienna, Austria, at the US’ request, according to the Department of Justice. He posted bail for about US$ 174 million and has since been confined to Austria while extradition proceedings are underway.

But Firtash’s team of lawyers is seeking to have the charges against him dismissed before he can be extradited to the US, arguing that the government has failed to prove that he committed any crime in the country.

The prosecution’s newly-filed documents directly dispute that argument and claim that the case is valid because Firtash’s actions were intended to have a "substantial effect" within the US.

Speaking of Firtash and Knopp, the filing reads, "their prosecution will disrupt this organized crime group and prevent it from taking further criminal acts within the United States."

Firtash’s lawyer Lanny Davis said on Wednesday that his client is being smeared with "innuendo" by the federal prosecutors, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Another one of Firtash’s lawyers, former US Attorney Dan Webb, added that the allegations that Firtash has ties to Russian organized crime are unwarranted, given that such charges are "not even included in the government’s own indictment."

However, according to a State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks and reported by NBC News, Firtash told US Ambassador William Taylor that he got his start in business with the permission of Semion Mogilevich, a major Russian organized crime boss. At the time, Firtash claimed that he was forced to deal with such figures.

NBC News also reported that Firtash was once involved in a failed US$ 850 million deal to buy and redevelop the Drake Hotel in New York City in partnership with a firm run by Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.

Manafort may now be under investigation as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

While the charges against Firtash are limited to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, interstate travel in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, prosecutors are clear about their conviction that he is tied to organized crime:

"This prosecution therefore seeks to protect this country, its commerce and its citizens from the corrupting influence and withering effects of international organized crime."