The Prosecutor General’s Office has refused to authorize an extradition request for Oleg Bakhmatyuk, an exiled Ukrainian billionaire who is wanted for embezzlement and money laundering, according to a document obtained by the Kyiv Post.

Bakhmatyuk, the owner of agricultural holding UkrLandFarming, is under investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). He is accused of embezzling a $49-million stabilization loan that the government gave to his bank in 2014, which he denies.

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To avoid arrest in Ukraine, Bakhmatyuk lives in Vienna. 

The NABU has been seeking to extradite him for months. In October, Ukrainian media reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office hadn’t been authorizing NABU’s extradition request since June.

Finally, in November, the prosecutor’s office officially rejected the extradition request, according to a document the Kyiv Post obtained from a source at one of the agencies who wasn’t authorized to go on record.

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According to the document, the prosecutor’s office refused to authorize the extradition of Bakhmatyuk because “there aren’t enough grounds” to make the request to Austria. 

This decision comes amid tensions between the prosecutor’s office and the NABU, as well as growing criticism of the prosecutor’s office’s performance.

Read also: Iryna Venediktova: The Office of Prosecutor General has achieved a lot in 2020

The Office of Prosecutor General told the Kyiv Post that NABU’s request was denied because it wasn’t in agreement with international and Ukrainian law.

“The office returned the extradition request to NABU because we found it doesn’t meet the requirements of the international law, and violates the procedures established by the Ukrainian law, which can become an obstacle for an extradition of the suspect by a foreign country,” Iryna Venediktova’s office told the Kyiv Post in a written comment.

Bakhmatyuk has denied all charges against him and criticized the NABU and its chief Artem Sytnyk for being “ineffective” and going after him unjustly to “imitate work.”

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The wanted businessman said that he has complained about Sytnyk to Ukraine’s government and President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“During this year, I addressed the president and prime minister at least five times, asking them to bring this man (Sytnyk) to his senses,” Bakhmatyuk said in an interview with journalist Dmytro Gordon, published on Nov. 11. “The NABU labeled me an oligarch. They need to show they are going after oligarchs. So they picked the person who they think is the weakest one.”

Who is Oleg Bakhmatyuk?

The troubles of agricultural tycoon Bakhmatyuk, who was once worth over $2 billion, started in 2014. One of his two banks, VAB Bank, was found insolvent.

According to the National Bank, VAB was overburdened with insider loans to Bakhmatyuk’s businesses. The troubled bank received a $49-million stabilization loan from the state, but soon went bankrupt anyway.

According to the investigation, Bakhmatyuk conspired with a top National Bank official to illegally get the loan, and then immediately transferred the money to his offshore companies. 

In November 2019, NABU arrested seven people in the VAB bank case. Among them was Alexander Pysaruk, then-head of Raiffeisen Bank Aval’s Ukrainian branch, and a former deputy head of the National Bank who allegedly helped Bakhmatyuk obtain the stabilization loan. Pysaruk denied the charges. He was later released on $200,000 bail. 

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But Bakhmatyuk couldn’t be arrested. In October 2019, just a month before the arrests, the businessman moved to Vienna. The Austrian capital has been a popular destination for Ukrainian big shots seeking to avoid prosecution at home. 

Over the past two years, the NABU and Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) have been fighting to keep the case against Bakhmatyuk alive. 

It was closed twice in 2019, but renewed both times. 

According to Venediktova’s office, earlier the NABU unsuccessfully tried to put Bakhmatyuk on Interpol’s list of wanted persons due to procedural violations. The prosecutor’s office told the Kyiv Post that the same procedural violations by NABU made the office reject the extradition request, too. 

Although the investigation is being overseen by the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, the refusal was decided upon by the Prosecutor’s Office’s department for international cooperation. 

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