Firtash Seeking Funds to Get Out of ‘Political’ Custody

Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian billionaire held on a U.S. warrant in Vienna, said he needs a few days to raise a record 125 million-euro ($174 million) bail to get out of custody he criticized as politically motivated.

“The reason for my detention in Vienna last week was without foundation and I believe strongly that the motivation was purely political,” Firtash, 48, said in a statement e-mailed by his spokesman. “My detention will seriously threaten many Ukrainian jobs and destroy my business.”

Firtash was jailed March 12, days before Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula voted to join Russia in a ballot rejected as “illegal” by the U.S. and the European Union. U.S. authorities allege he paid bribes and formed a criminal organization. The Vienna criminal court now has to decide on a U.S. extradition request for Firtash.

Firtash probably won’t be released on bail before March 21, his spokesman, Daniel Kapp, said via e-mail. Vienna’s criminal court on March 14 set the highest bond ever fixed in Austria, surpassing the 100 million euros banker Julius Meinl V had to pay in 2008.

It’s “an extremely large amount of money,” Kapp said. “As most of Mr. Firtash’s assets are locked in investments it simply takes time to provide for sufficient liquidity.”

A spokeswoman for the Vienna criminal court had earlier said she expected the payment to be made today. Firtash will be released immediately as soon the bond is paid, she said.

Barley Soup

Firtash made his fortune importing Russian natural gas to Ukraine as co-owner of RosUkrEnergo AG, once Ukraine’s sole importer of Russian gas. He controls his assets through Group DF, which employs 100,000 people in Ukraine. While Forbes magazine estimates his fortune at $673 million, a 2008 secret U.S. cable said he was previously worth $5 billion.

Firtash shared his Austrian cell in Vienna’s Josefstadt courthouse jail with other inmates. His menu included barley soup and apricot dumplings, according to a report by daily newspaper Kronen Zeitung.

The Crimean vote has triggered the broadest sanctions on Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. EU foreign ministers agreed to freeze assets and impose travel bans on 21 Russians and Crimeans while the U.S. put similar sanctions on seven Russian officials and four Ukrainians.

“As a Ukrainian, why I was detained is as bewildering as it was unfair,” Firtash said.

Firtash’s lawyer, former Austrian Justice Minister Dieter Boehmdorfer, declined to comment.

If freed from custody, Firtash will have to stay in Austria and has pledged to do so, the criminal court said in a statement March 14.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.