Dmitry Firtash: Ukrainian energy magnate with close links to senior Tories arrested in Austria after FBI investigation

John Whittingdale and Lord Risby on board of organisation with strong ties to Dmitry Firtash

A pro-Russian Ukrainian energy magnate with connections to senior British parliamentarians has been arrested in Vienna at the request of the United States following an FBI investigation.

The Independent revealed last week the links between gas billionaire Dmitry Firtash and senior Conservatives John Whittingdale, the chair of the powerful Commons media select committee, and Lord Risby, a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and shadow minister for Financial Services.

Both Parliamentarians are on the board of the British Ukrainian Society (BUS), an organisation with strong ties to Mr Firtash, who was one of Ukraine’s most powerful figures under the country’s deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.

And in a development described by experts as “seismic” Mr Firtash, 48, was arrested yesterday by the organised crime unit of the Austrian police. The energy magnate is alleged to have paid bribes and formed a criminal organisation, according to the warrant which was issued after the FBI began investigating him in 2006, according to the Austrian Interior Ministry.

Firtash has a fortune estimated by Forbes at $673m, with other estimates placing his wealth at $5 billion. Timothy Ash, chief economist at Standard Bank plc, described the event as “an absolutely seismic development on so many different levels”. He said: “Firtash is probably in the top two of Ukrainian oligarchs in terms of wealth/influence across borders.”

The fantastically wealthy Mr Firtash is a former meat trader and second-hand car dealer who made his fortune supplying goods to energy-rich Turkmenistan in exchange for gas that was sold to Ukraine. In 2006 he emerged as one of the figures behind RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered company that controls Russian company Gazprom’s gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe.

The Independent has learned that Mr Firtash owns a luxurious house on a discreet side street near Harrods. Land Registry records show he bought the vast property in late 2012 and it was completely rebuilt with modifications including an underground swimming pool.

Other BUS directors include Robert Shetler-Jones, former CEO of Group DF and now a member of Group DF’s Group Supervisory Council and Lord Oxford, a former British diplomat in Kiev and another member of Group DF’s Supervisory Council.

Mr Shetler-Jones has donated tens of thousands of pounds to the Conservatives through a company called Scythian. BUS director Anthony Fisher is a former director of the Firtash Foundation. Another BUS director is Vladimir Granovski, a political spin doctor who worked on an election campaign for President Yanukovych and is a board member of Mr Firtash’s television business. MP John Whittingdale is director of the British Ukrainian Society MP John Whittingdale is director of the British Ukrainian Society

In the register of members’ interests, Mr Whittingdale, who is chairman of the British-Ukraine All Party Parliamentary Group, lists a succession of trips he has made to Ukraine at the BUS’s expense. He went on a £2,800 trip to Kiev in 2010, “to meet members of the Government of Ukraine and Opposition”. He returned to Ukraine in 2011 as a guest of the Society and in his capacity as the group's chair. That trip cost £1,700 and was to “meet members of the Government of Ukraine”. A four-day visit in 2012 to attend a conference in Yalta, Ukraine cost £2,520. He visited the same conference for a £2,680 week-long trip in September last year.

Mr Firtash visited the Foreign Office in London on 24 February to meet officials and appeal for financial support for Ukraine and its businesses in the wake of the recent upheaval.

The energy magnate has faced allegations of media censorship in Ukraine and prompted angry demonstrations in the City of London by British-based Ukrainians when he was allowed to open the London Stock Exchange in October after funding a lavish “Days of Ukraine” cultural event beside the Thames. Promotional material for the London event boasted: “The Days of Ukraine in the UK received support at the highest level, including the patronage of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.”

Days of Ukraine was sponsored by Mr Firtash’s Group DF. Lord Risby and Mr Whittingdale were among the members of the organising committee for the event, which was chaired by Mr Firtash’s wife Lada. Boris Krasnyansky, CEO of Group DF, was also on the committee. Days of Ukraine was launched in the Houses of Parliament and attended by House of Commons speaker John Bercow and the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Konstyantyn Gryshchenko.

Last week in Parliament, Labour MP Helen Goodman, the shadow Culture minister, challenged William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, over whether the Tories had taken money from supporters of the Yanukovych regime. Mr Hague described her suggestion as “ridiculous”.

Ms Goodman told The Independent: “At a time of crisis in Ukraine it is vital that the British Foreign Secretary can negotiate in the knowledge that there are no conflicts of interest.”

Mr Firtash is owner of Inter TV, Ukraine’s most popular television outlet, which has been criticised over its coverage of recent events in Kiev. Activists from the Maidan Square protests called for a national boycott of Mr Firtash’s channel. Journalists at the station signed a petition complaining about alleged censorship and pro-Yanukovych propaganda in the run up to the recent disturbances in the Ukrainian capital.

Mr Firtash, who has in recent days also been linked to Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, states in his biography on the DF Group website that he “is not a member of any political party or movement”.

Mr Whittingdale said his work sponsored by the BUS was intended “to promote closer relationships between Britain and Ukraine” and the Society’s funding of his trips enabled him to “meet people in Kiev and Yalta of different political parties”, including Mr Klitschko.

“They have never given me a line or influenced me. They pay travel costs and accommodation for me to attend the Yalta summit but on each occasion I have met with people from every party. It has been very helpful for me and given me those opportunities,” he said. “I understand Mr Firtash has funded the British Ukrainian Society, as well as Cambridge University and many other good projects. In my view he is funding good work.”

Lord Risby said that the BUS did a “good job” and worked closely with the Foreign Office. “I have never ever had any instruction from Firtash or had anyone ask me to take any political viewpoint,” he said. “I made it clear that we would make a judgement about who we would see and that we would not be subject to any pressure.”

The Firtash Foundation said it has no relationship with the BUS “beyond occasional discussions relating to culture projects in London” It confirmed that the Foundation was “the organiser” of the Days of Ukraine festival and said “the project was financially supported by Group DF”.

Mr Shetler-Jones said Mr Firtash, who he has worked with for ten years, was “working hard to do whatever he can to support the interim administration in Ukraine in the current crisis” and categorically said “Mr Firtash has not provided financial support for the BUS”.

Mr Shetler-Jones said Scythian was providing support to the BUS. But he said that his donations to the Tories had not been at Mr Firtash’s behest or with his knowledge and also rejected the idea that Mr Firtash was indirectly influencing British politics through the BUS. “The BUS is independent and not party political,” he said. “The BUS board worked very closely with John Grogan, the Labour MP, who was the former Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ukraine before John Whittingdale.”

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on