Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz used a private jet allegedly belonging to fugitive oligarch Dmytro Firtash to travel home from a high-level meeting in Tel Aviv, writes the Austrian news website ZackZack.
According to ZackZack, on March 4, Kurz used the Embraer Legacy 600 plane with the registration number OE-IRK to travel from Tel Aviv to Vienna. The same plane is used by Austrian-based Firtash to move his associates across Europe, according to the journalists.
ZackZack writes that Firtash’s PR manager Daniel Kapp said that the aircraft is owned by “a company that can belong to Firtash but is operated autonomously by a third party.”
Kurz’s office told ZackZack that the plane was booked for the chancellor, which is a “standard process,” adding that “who owns the aircraft is beyond our knowledge and of no relevance.”
Kremlin-linked energy tycoon Firtash has been residing in Austria since 2014, fighting a U.S. extradition warrant.
The U.S. has charged Firtash with bribery and racketeering.
For over six years, Firtash has been able to successfully delay his nearly imminent extradition and has grown close to the Austrian political elite.
Now it appears that Firtash has very high-level connections in Austria.
According to ZackZack, Firtash lives in a Vienna villa owned by Alexander Schütz, a major donor to Kurz’s governing Austrian People’s Party. The website also writes that the party’s former leader Michael Spindelegger, who is also Austria’s ex-Vice Chancellor, is employed by the oligarch’s Agency for the Modernization of Ukraine, which exists only on paper.
Firtash’s high-caliber legal team employs Austrian former Justice Minister Dieter Bohmdorfer, while his PR manager Kapp used to work as a spokesperson for another former Austrian People’s Party leader – Josef Pröll – who also served as Austria’s Vice Chancellor.
Kurz’s travel caught the eye of Austrian investigative journalists when he used an unconventional way to travel home from Tel Aviv.
On March 4, Kurz tagged along with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss COVID-19 vaccination.
On the same day, Kurz took a private jet home.
According to ZackZack, the jet belongs to Avcon Jet AG, which operates at least 19 private planes. After dropping Kurz off in Vienna, the OE-IRK plane traveled to Kyiv.
Although Firtash isn’t allowed to leave Austria, he has been regularly paying for “aviation services.”
Firtash’s delayed extradition
In June 2013, Firtash was charged by a Chicago grand jury with giving $18.5 million in bribes to Indian government officials to receive titanium mining licenses with the aim of selling the extracted minerals to Boeing.
U.S. Department of Justice court filings describe Firtash as an “upper-echelon (associate) of Russian organized crime,” allegations he denies. The indictment was made public in April 2014.
In June 2019, Firtash lost his extradition appeal in Austria’s Supreme Court. He was subject to be transferred to the U.S. after Austria’s justice minister approved his extradition. Yet on the same day, Firtash’s defense filed a motion for a retrial, citing new evidence.
Meanwhile, the oligarch doesn’t loosen his grip over Ukraine.
According to a September report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Firtash siphoned more than $190 million of state loans and bought a near-controlling stake in the state-owned Zaporizhzhya Titanium and Magnesium Plant — Europe’s only producer of titanium sponge. Firtash’s representatives denied all allegations.
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