Ukrainian titanium magnate
Dmytro Firtash has lost his legal fight to avoid extradition to the United
States on bribery-related charges.
The highest court of Austria, where Firtash has been held since
2014, ruled that he can be extradited to the US to face charges related to a
failed attempt to mine heavy mineral sands in India, although the final
decision on Firtash’s extradition now lies with the Austrian justice
the director of chemical conglomerate Group DF, which owns a wide range of
titanium assets, and acts as a go-between for Russian gas company Gazprom.
Firtash is also under scrutiny in Ukraine regarding the operation
of a TiO2 plant in Crimea amid allegations that the plant has been
using ilmenite exported from another part of Ukraine.
Firtash has said the charges against him are politically
motivated. Numerous media reports have linked Firtash to former Ukraine
President Viktor Yanukovych and to Paul Manafort, the jailed former adviser to
US President Donald Trump.
Indian mineral sands project
Firtash was one of six people indicted by a US grand jury in 2013
on charges of planning bribes to Indian government officials in order to secure
access to titanium ores and other heavy mineral sands in the state of Andhra
Bothli Trade, part of Group DF, intended to mine ilmenite, rutile,
zircon and other heavy minerals from coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh.
The project was supposed to supply an unnamed US company with
access to the titanium sponge produced in India.
“Beginning in 2006, the
defendants allegedly conspired to pay at least $18.5 million in bribes to
secure licenses to mine minerals in the eastern coastal Indian state of Andhra
Pradesh," according to the US Department of Justice.
The Andhra Pradesh government decided to scrap the project in 2014
and withdrew permission for the mines.
Firtash was arrested in Austria on the request of US authorities
in 2014. Extradition was refused by an Austrian court in 2015, where Firtash has
remained since under a $125 million bail bond.
disappointed in today’s decision by the Austrian supreme court,” Firtash’s legal team said on Tuesday June 25. “In any event, nothing has changed
regarding Firtash’s innocence and the absence of evidence that he is guilty of
Crimean ilmenite imports
Group DF’s diverse business interests include ownership of
Ukrainian Chemical Products, a sulfate route TiO2-pigment plant
located in Crimea.
The company, previously known as Crimea Titan, has a nameplate
capacity of 80,000 tonnes per year of titanium dioxide.
Yet, it has struggled to source ilmenite and water since Russia annexed the
Crimean peninsula in 2014. Group DF had previously used ilmenite feedstock mined elsewhere in Ukraine.
The fact that the facility has continued to operate since 2014, despite its sourcing difficulties, has raised questions as to the current source
of its ilmenite feedstock. The facility was closed
for six weeks in August 2018 after a serious chemical leak. The leak
meant the border between Ukraine and Crimea was temporarily closed, but also raised the question of where the plant’s ilmenite supply is sourced in Ukraine.
In September 2018, Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development and
Trade hit back at local media claims that it had failed to impose sanctions
on Firtash and that it was allowing the export of Ukraine-origin ilmenite to
The ministry said it had already applied special sanctions to
Ukrainian Chemical Products. But denied a proposal from the Military
Prosecutor's Office of the Southern Region of Ukraine that requested additional measures
be taken due to accusations that the company is exporting ore from Ukraine to
the territory of Crimea.