Dispatch October 25, 2019

Dmitry Firtash: A Familiar Face in a New Scandal

Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash could be a key figure in unraveling the president’s corruption and extortion efforts across Europe.

Here’s what we know so far about where he fits in:

Firtash has links to the Russian government and – according to the US Department of Justice – the Russian mob. He currently resides in Vienna, where he is evading extradition to the U.S.

  • From approximately 2004-2009, following increased tensions between Ukraine and Russia after the Orange Revolution, Firtash made his fortune acting as an intermediary in the natural gas industry between the two governments.
  • The Department of Justice has described Firtash as an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.” The State Department has allegedly linked him to notorious Russian mob moss Semion Mogilevich. Firtash has denied links to Mogilevich and the Russian mob.
  • Firtash was indicted in 2013 by a Chicago federal court on racketeering charges (which he has denied).
    • Prosecutors allege that Firtash bribed Indian government officials $18.5 million to help him mine titanium to sell to Boeing, and that some of these bribes went through U.S. banks.
    • The indictment was unsealed in 2014 and Firtash was arrested in Vienna. He posted bail and has been living there ever since.
    • According to The Washington Post, Firtash’s case has now been reportedly reopened in Austria, and his extradition is once again “on hold.”
  • Firtash also has deep ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even developing a “friendly relationship” with him, although he has denied ever doing business with Manafort.
  • Firtash has firmly denied all allegations of wrongdoing and has not been found guilty of any crimes.

Firtash is reportedly linked to Soviet-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are at the center of the Ukraine scandal.

  • Firtash and Parnas allegedly met for the first time in June 2019 through a mutual friend.
  • In July 2019, Firtash hired longtime Trump supporters Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing as his attorneys. He made this decision reportedly “at Parnas’s recommendation,” as Parnas allegedly knew the lawyers from his association with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
  • diGenova and Toensing then reportedly hired Parnas as a translator, although Bloomberg noted that Firtash “has plenty of translators and key aides who speak fluent English.”
  • Both Parnas and Fruman allegedly “worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash” before Parnas began his translation work, and Reuters quoted a source who said that Firtash was “financing” Fruman and Parnas’ activities.
    • Firtash has denied any relationship with Parnas and Fruman and any contact with Giuliani. Giuliani has denied any relationship with Firtash. diGenova and Toensing also claimed that Parnas has not been paid by Firtash.
  • In October 2019, Parnas and Fruman were indicted for charges including conspiracy and campaign finance violations (they have both pleaded not guilty). They were arrested at Dulles airport with one-way tickets to Vienna, where Firtash currently lives.
    • According to CNN, Parnas and Fruman claim they were traveling to Vienna to meet with Giuliani andViktor Shokin, former Ukrainian Prosecutor General at the center of the Ukraine scandal, to help Shokin with a planned interview with Sean Hannity.
    • Giuliani claims that, while he had also planned a trip to Vienna at the same time, his trip was unrelated to Parnas and Fruman or to Firtash.
  • The federal prosecutors working on Firtash’s extradition case in Chicago reportedly “took note” of Parnas and Fruman’s arrest. The prosecutors were reportedly aware of both Parnas and Fruman, and “suspect[ed] there might be a broader relationship among Firtash, Parnas and Fruman.”
  • Congressional investigators have also raised questions about whether Firtash is the source of the funds that Parnas and Fruman were accused of illegally donating. Firtash has denied these allegations.
    • A Ukrainian government source quoted in Politico noted that if Firtash had funded Parnas and Fruman’s donations, “money from the gas corruption scheme in Ukraine is in the U.S. political system.” Firtash has denied “any wrongdoing or any connection to the gas trade in Ukraine.”

Parnas and Fruman appear to have lobbied Ukraine’s state-own natural gas company on behalf of Firtash.

  • In March 2019, Parnas and Fruman reportedly lobbied the state-owned Ukrainian natural gas company Naftogaz to replace its CEO with another individual who they hoped would be amenable to “their plan to sell American natural gas to Ukraine.”
    • This effort to shift the Naftogaz board appears to have been running parallel to an effort by U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry, who was also trying to convince Naftogaz to replace certain advisory board members.
  • Firtash has longtime ties to Naftogaz, as his scheme from 2004-2009 involved him essentially buying natural gas from a Russian state-owned company and selling it to Naftogaz for a profit.
  • When trying to push their plan to sell gas to Naftogaz, Parnas and Fruman reportedly “invoked Firtash’s name,” saying that “Naftogaz should put aside financial disputes with Firtash, a decision that could provide a windfall of more than $1 billion for the tycoon.”
  • The two men allegedly tried to convince Naftogaz to “pay Firtash a debt of more than $200 million that Firtash believes he is owed by the company.”
    • Firtash has denied any involvement in these negotiations.

In light of his legal issues in the United States, Firtash has reportedly used his influence to curry favor with the Trump administration by helping Giuliani with his efforts to smear Trump’s political rival.

  • Bloomberg News reported that in the summer of 2019, “some of Firtash’s associates began to use his broad network of Ukraine contacts to get damaging information on Biden.”
  • Reportedly at the request of Firtash’s lawyers, Shokin submitted a sworn witness statement in September 2019 accusing Joe Biden of a wide range of actions that Shokin claimed amounted to foreign interference in Ukrainian affairs.
    • Shokin, who served as Ukrainian prosecutor general from February 2015-March 2016, had reportedly at one point been investigating activity involving Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunted Biden served.
    • Multiple western countries, including the U.S., had repeatedly called for Ukraine to fire Shokin over concerns about corruption. Biden, in his capacity as U.S. Vice President, was one of the officials pushing Ukraine on this issue, and Shokin was eventually removed from his post in March 2016.
  • In his witness statement, Shokin blamed Biden for blocking Firtash’s return to Ukraine in late 2015.
  • He also repeated his claim that he had been fired because his investigation into Burisma threatened Biden’s son, saying, “the real reason for my dismissal was my actions regarding in Burisma and Biden’s personal interest in that company.” This contention runs contrary to all available evidence regarding Shokin’s actions and the concerns within the international community regarding his corruption.
  • This witness statement proved to be directly to the political benefit of Trump. Giuliani received access to this statement and later cited it during a TV appearance, claiming it was proof of wrongdoing by Biden.

Firtash inspires more questions than he answers.

  • Who first connected Firtash and Parnas, and what relationship exists between Firtash and Furman?
  • Which associates were soliciting information on Biden, and were they doing this specifically at Firtash’s request?
  • Was there a quid pro quo between Firtash and Trump? If Firtash helped investigate Trump’s political opponents, would Trump lean on the Department of Justice to drop his case?