- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

VIENNA (AP) - An Austrian court on Tuesday approved a U.S. extradition request for a Ukrainian oligarch suspected of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Indian officials.

The court decision overturns a lower court ruling nearly two years ago against extraditing Dymitro Firtash. The judge then said that the U.S. move was at least partially politically motivated through links to political events in Ukraine, and not supported by sufficient evidence.

Extradition, however, is still not a certainty. Leo Levnaic-Iwanski, who headed the three-judge panel of the Upper State Court, said the final decision will be made by Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter.

Firtash was indicted in Chicago by a U.S. grand jury in 2012 for allegedly paying off officials through U.S. banks in a failed attempt to secure titanium mining rights in India worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Arrested a year later in Vienna, he posted bail of 125 million euros (more than $130 million) shortly afterward, leaving him free but unable to leave Austria.

Shortly after Tuesday’s court ruling however, he was taken into custody on what prosecution spokeswoman Nina Bussek said was a warrant from Spanish law enforcement officials.

She gave no details but told the Austria Press Agency that the timing had nothing to do with the Austrian court decision. Instead, she said, it was triggered by the receipt of “supplementary information from Spanish authorities.”

One of Ukraine’s most influential businessmen, Firtash, 51, is well connected both in Moscow and with Ukrainian politicians opposed to the Kremlin. He earned millions of dollars in the natural gas trading sector under deposed pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

News reports tie him to business dealings with lobbyist Paul Manafort, an adviser to Donald Trump during his U.S. presidential election campaign. Manafort also advised Yanukovych during a re-election bid.

Austrian Judge Christoph Bauer suggested in 2015 that the extradition request for Firtash was linked to attempts to weaken Yanukovych by stripping him of a key ally.

A court statement summarizing Tuesday’s ruling focused on the U.S. accusations in overturning Bauer’s decision, saying “the crimes Firtash is accused of have no political character.”

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