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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Oligarch's role in the U.S.-Ukraine mess needs illumination

Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash in 2015.

Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash in 2015. Credit: AP/Ronald Zak

The name Dmytro Firtash keeps cropping up in the Trump administration's Eastern Europe intrigues.

But the details of how this controversial 54-year-old Ukrainian industrialist may fit into the U.S. political scenario have yet to emerge.

Billionaire Firtash has long been a major player in his home country's gas and chemical business. He's living in Vienna, Austria, fighting extradition by the U.S.

Six years ago in Chicago, federal authorities accused Firtash, an associate and several others of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to minerals used in titanium-based products — allegedly to sell materials to Boeing, the aviation corporation.

Federal prosecutors cited connections between Firtash and both organized crime and the government in Russia.

Last week The Washington Post reported that two Soviet-born businessmen associated with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and accused of illegal campaign-fund activities talked of a deal with Firtash.

The pair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, along with a co-defendant, reportedly proposed to serve as middlemen in a deal to sell natural gas from the Middle East to Firtash-owned fertilizer companies. How substantial that may have been is publicly unknown.

Parnas has acted as a translator for Firtash's legal defense team, which includes husband-and-wife lawyers Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing. The couple appears routinely on Fox News to rail against critics and investigators of President Donald Trump.

“Mr. Parnas was retained by diGenova & Toensing, LLP as an interpreter in order to communicate with their client Mr. Firtash, who does not speak English,” diGenova's Washington-based firm said in a statement this month.

Giuliani has spoken of help from Parnas and Fruman in finding people with potentially damaging information about Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had a lucrative job for Ukraine's large gas firm.

Firtash, too, has apparently taken an interest in the Trump-Giuliani narrative about Biden. Earlier, Firtash was represented by Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis, but no longer.

Trump's highly unorthodox diplomatic effort to prod Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation of Biden involves a former Kiev prosecutor named Viktor Shokin.

Shokin says in a court filing that Biden, while vice president, pressured Ukrainian politicians to prevent Firtash, already fighting extradition, from returning to Kiev in 2015.

Can that be described as "dirt" on Biden? Maybe not, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which reported that Ukrainian officials also didn't want him to return.

The back story of Firtash's prior role may be key to his current interests.

Firtash's company served for years as a middleman in the gas trade between Russia and bitter rival Ukraine. That arrangement is supposed to have benefited Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ironically it was then-U.S. Ambassador William Taylor — now the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who is famous for his explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry — who wrote a State Department cable in 2008 about a meeting with Firtash.

The cable published back then by WikiLeaks said Firtash "acknowledged ties to Russian organized crime figure Semion Mogilevich, stating he needed Mogilevich’s approval to get into business in the first place.”

Mogilevich, who is listed as wanted by the FBI, lives in Moscow, according to BuzzFeed News.

The best-known past connection between Trump's political circle and Firtash involves imprisoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Manafort worked for and helped elect the Kremlin-allied Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions, before Yanukovych was ousted and eventually fled to Russia. The Yanukovych regime was known as anti-NATO and anti-Western.

In that context, Firtash was also a supporter of the Party of Regions. And he and Manafort were involved a decade ago in a plan to redevelop the old Drake Hotel at Park Avenue and East 56th Street.

That deal never came to fruition.

Between the House impeachment inquiry and the Justice Department's pending investigations, a closer look at Firtash seems likely in the months ahead.

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