On 30 April 2015, in a landmark decision, Judge Christoph Bauer of the Regional Court in Vienna refused to order the extradition of Ukrainian 'oligarch', Dmytro Firtash, on the basis of insufficiency of evidence, but also because the US request was politically motivated.
Laurie Fransman QC and Sadat Sayeed of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Roger Gherson of Gherson solicitors, act for Dmytro Firtash, the most political of the Ukrainian ‘oligarchs’. Firtash was arrested in Vienna in March 2014 on a US extradition request, and for the last year, Gherson and several counsel have headed Firtash’s international defence team. Laurie and Sadat, together with Roger Gherson, assembled the political motivation argument, while Gherson solicitors, together with specialist extradition counsel, formulated the extradition law strategy and arguments.
This unique ruling took place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the continuing battle between the USA and Russia for greater influence in the region.
The case has attracted global media attention because of its geopolitical context and Firtash’s victory has been reported across major media outlets, including the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Financial Times and the New York Times. The latter reported:
“The ruling, by Judge Christoph Bauer of the Landesgerichtsstrasse Regional Court in Vienna, amounted to a scathing rebuke of the Justice and State Departments, and reflected the diminished credibility of the United States authorities, even in the eyes of a European ally.
At a hearing that stretched late into the evening, Mr. Firtash’s defense team sought to demolish the American case and discredit the Justice Department’s extradition request.
The main thrust of the team’s arguments, and the issue that clearly dominated the attention of Judge Bauer, was that the case was directed by the State Department in pursuit of larger American foreign policy goals.
In oral arguments, and in testimony by a parade of high-profile witnesses, the lawyers described the American prosecution as an effort to punish Mr. Firtash for his ties to Mr. Yanukovych and his support of Russia, and to sideline him from future political activity in Ukraine.
‘America obviously saw Firtash as somebody who was threatening their economic interests’, Judge Bauer said, explaining his decision from the bench. But he also said the United States had not provided coherent evidence of a crime either: ‘There just wasn’t sufficient proof."
While the Financial Times reported:
“The ruling is a major victory for Mr Firtash, who in the witness box described bribery charges related to an Indian titanium venture that never materialised as “absolutely untrue”. His defence team accused the US of waging a politically-motivated witch-hunt linked to the continuing standoff over Ukraine.
The Austrian judge ultimately accepted that argument, in an embarrassment to the US that could be seized on by Russia.
At times, the hearing focused heavily on Ukrainian political intrigues and Mr Firtash’s claims that the US was trying to sideline him rather than on the Indian business dealings for which justice department officials were seeking to prosecute him.”