Fighting Extradition, Russian Organized Crime Figure Aligns With Trump Camp
Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, described by the Justice Department as an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime, has been stuck in Vienna, Austria, for several years fighting extradition to the United States to face bribery charges, and it appears he has adopted a new legal strategy, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Aligning himself with President Donald Trump’s camp, Firtash has begun “ to portray his prosecution as part of a larger political conspiracy that includes a purported pressure campaign in Ukraine by former Vice President Joe Biden and alleged irregularities in the probe into Russia’s 2016 U.S. election interference.”
Over the summer, Firtash hired American attorneys Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, a married legal team strongly supportive of Trump that also has ties to Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
All three lawyers have bought into the theory “that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of the Democrats,” despite “the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller and a 2017 U.S. intelligence community report that found Russia interfered to aid Mr. Trump, a Republican.”
Giuliani has been Trump’s point man in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and the 2016 election — an issue now the focus of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Democrats have said Firtash is not an official part of their investigation, but the Journal reported that several lawmakers have indicated they would like to know more about his ties to Trump’s circle.
Firtash also has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, both business and personal, the Journal reported: “Mr. Firtash has said that he received some $2 billion in loans from a bank run by people close to Mr. Putin and is acquainted with a former judo partner and childhood friend of the president.”
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is linked to the Ukrainian natural gas tycoon as well. The pair looked into buying the Drake Hotel in Manhattan, but the plan never got off the ground, according to a 2011 lawsuit.
And yet another connection has piqued the interest of House Democrats: Firtash was introduced to Lev Parnas in June. Parnas and his associate, Igor Fruman, both were arrested earlier this month on campaign finance charges. Both men are also associates of Giuliani and reportedly assisted him with his pressure campaign in Ukraine.
Parnas and Fruman were at a U.S. airport with one-way tickets to Vienna, where Firtash is holed up, when they were apprehended by American authorities. Firtash’s attorneys have said the trip had nothing to do with their client.
According to a source familiar with Firtash’s case, it was Parnas who suggested he add DiGenova and Toensing to his legal team. The attorneys then hired Parnas as an interpreter.
Whether Firtash’s shift in legal strategy will produce the desired result has yet to be seen. A former U.S. official familiar with the case described the move as a “last-minute Hail Mary” move, the Journal noted.