HYDERABAD: In what could be a relief for Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP KVP Ramachandra Rao, an Austrian court has recently refused to extradite Dmitri V Firtash, a Ukrainian billionaire, to the US in a bribery case - in which both have been accused of racketeering and bribery.
The US authorities have accused KVP, Firtash and five others of having paid $18.5 million in bribes to officials in India to secure a titanium-mining deal that never materialized. The ruling by Judge Christoph Bauer of the Landesgerichtsstrasse Regional Court in Vienna is a ‘scathing rebuke’ of the US Justice and State Departments, and reflects the ‘diminished credibility’ of the US even in the eyes of its European ally, according to reports published in the US media.
Interestingly, the Judge said he did not doubt the veracity of two witnesses cited by American prosecutors in their filings, but asked “whether these witnesses even existed!” - because the US Justice Department had repeatedly refused to provide requested information or respond to questions.
According to the US authorities, beginning in 2006, KVP, a close aide of former AP CM YSR, and other accused allegedly conspired to pay at least $18.5 million to Indian officials in bribes to secure licences to mine minerals in AP. The mining project was expected to generate more than $500 million annually from the sale of titanium products, including sales to an unnamed “Company A,” headquartered in Chicago - said to be Boeing.
Among the companies involved in the alleged conspiracy are Group DF Limited, a British Virgin Islands company controlled by Firtash. In April 2006, Bothli Trade (of the Group DF Limited) and the then YSR government agreed to set up a joint venture to mine various minerals, including ilmenite, a mineral that may be processed into various titanium-based products such as titanium sponge.
In February 2007, Company A entered into an agreement with Ostchem Holding, through Bothli Trade, to work toward a further agreement that would allow Bothli Trade the ability to supply 5 million to 12 million pounds of titanium sponge from the Indian project to Company A on an annual basis. The mining project required licences and approval of both the AP government and the Central government.
According to the charges, the defendants “used US financial institutions to engage in international transmission of millions of dollars for the purpose of bribing Indian public officials to obtain approval of the necessary licences for the project.” They allegedly financed the project and transferred and concealed bribe payments through Group DF, and used threats and intimidation to advance the interests of the enterprise’s illegal activities.
Firtash, the indictment said, was the leader of the enterprise and allegedly met with Indian government officials, including YSR, to discuss the project and its progress, and authorized payment of at least $18.5 million in bribes to both state and central government officials in India to secure the approval of licences for the project.
The logical step after the indictment by US authorities is a request for extradition of the accused. Now, with the Austrian court rejected the US request, sources close to KVP said, it is highly unlikely that Indian courts would oblige the US request for his extradition, given the poor evidence on record.