USA DOJ CALLS UKRAINIAN OLIGARCH + HUNGARIAN ASSOCIATE “upper-echelon associates of Russian organized crime.”
ABOVE – Dmytro Firtash (aka: Dmytro) Firtash)
BELOW – Andras Knopp
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.”
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.”
BACKGROUND: Why the arrest of Firtash may mean the death of the Russian mafia
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
The arrest of Dmytro Firtash may be the beginning of the end of the dangerous international mafia whose money and contacts helped increase the influence of the criminal Russian regime.
February 21, 2017, may enter modern history as the starting point of processes that can bury the political elites of a whole group of countries. This is first time that international justice may get hold of such a big “fish” –one that is alive and filled with the caviar of confidential information.
But, most importantly, this “fish” may simply have nowhere to go and have no reason to shield accomplices.
The allegations made against Firtash are so serious that he has a very simple choice: either make a deal with the prosecution — American or European — while, obviously, risking his own life, the price of which is growing exponentially, or else spend the next 50 years in prison in order to go free when none of the dangerous people will still be alive. But he needs to remain alive himself till then.
We have become used to viewing Firtash’s adventures within the context of Ukrainian events, trying to understand how his fate will affect the balance of power on the national political or business stage, what groups will be weakened, and what groups will be strengthened. Yes, certainly, all this is very important.
Yes, the collapse of Firtash can lead to a very rapid collapse of the entire group codenamed “RosUkrEnergo,” the disappearance from the scene of Serhiy Liovochkin and Yurii Boiko (allies of former president Viktor Yanukovych — Ed.), the strengthening of Renat Akhmetov and Borys Kolesnikov (pro-Russian oligarchs — Ed.), and a new caliber of influence by Victor Medvedchuk (Putin’s close friend and head of a pro-Russian party in Ukraine — Ed.). All this is true and yet it is not very interesting, because the issue is the redistribution of spheres of influence in the same “sandbox” of political and oligarchic forces that historically have been close to the Kremlin. (Although it is clear that the change of ownership at the Inter TV channel, for example, will finally reduce the influence of Russian propaganda to several provocative “news” channels. But this is a side effect.
We need to understand that Firtash is not Pavlo Lazarenko, who, when he ended up in the US, could share masses of information about Ukrainian deal-making with the prosecution, but the Americans never knew what to do with these secrets of the primitive tribe. Firtash, however, is a player on an international scale.
He is not at all a Ukrainian “oligarch.” He is a person who has been designated a Ukrainian oligarch in order to shield the complex enrichment schemes by Russian officials using Ukrainian means. Many fortunes have been accumulated in Russia this way, starting with the most important ones.
And the Russian trust in Firtash is not accidental. It is tied to his long partnership with Seva Mogilevich, yet another famous criminal “authority,” who continues to be investigated in the US, but who lives freely in Russia.
This is one more trove of information that opens the door to the inner sanctum of Russian statehood, revealing it as a “union” or thugs and security operatives. It is the communication mechanism that exposes the exclusively criminal, thuggish character of Russian statehood that was not to be proven by anyone ever.
This is precisely why the Kremlin has shown such attention to the fate of Firtash, whose activities have repeatedly provoked private dissatisfaction by the head of the regime.
This is why money for Firtash’s bail — 125 million Euros, incidentally — came out of the accounts of, not just anybody, but the president of the Russian Judo Federation, businessman Vasily Anisimov, and the sports partner and longtime friend of Vladimir Putin, his business partner Alisher Usmanov.
But there is one more and no less important contact on Dmytro Firtash’s list — Paul Manafort. If Firtash appears in the US, relations between him and Manafort may become part of the investigation by US intelligence of the contacts between the representatives of the US president and Russians.
And, in any case, from his appearance as the disembodied character in a “black ledger” kept by the Party of Regions, Paul Manafort has every chance of becoming the subject of testimony by an extremely well informed suspect. This is what informed American observers are writing about today.
The investigation of Firtash — in the US or even in Spain — may turn out to be not simply the story of the collapse of one of the powerful clan groupings on the Ukrainian political scene. It may be the beginning of the end of a dangerous international mafia — a mafia whose money and contacts undermined the authority of government institution in the US and Europe and helped strengthen the influence of the Russian criminal regime.
Because the nature of this influence is not the “Russian World,” not gas and oil, and not even tanks. The nature of this influence is the Mafia. Mafia with Putin’s face.
This is why February 21, 2017, may become a historical day.
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