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Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, arrested in March in Austria, was the mastermind behind an $18.5 million scheme to bribe Indian officials for a titanium mining contract, US justice authorities said Wednesday.
The US Justice Department unveiled an indictment against Firtash and five others, including an Indian member of parliament, charging them with various counts of racketeering, money laundering, and violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
It said that beginning in 2006 they sought to bribe Indian officials to gain mining licenses in Andhra Pradesh state, expecting to generate more than $500 million a year from sales of titanium products.
The charges said US laws applied because the conspiracy involved using US financial institutions, travel to and from the United States, and use of US-based communications -- computers, telephones, and the Internet.
The indictment singled out Ukrainian chemicals and media tycoon Firtash and his Group DF as behind the scheme.
"Firtash authorized payment of at least $18.5 million in bribes to officials of both the state government of Andhra Pradesh and the central government of India to secure the approval of licenses for the project," the charges said.
Firtash, 48, a close associate of ousted pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych, was arrested on US request on March 12 in Vienna and held for extradition.
Nine days later he was released on bail at a record 125 million euros ($172 million), promising not to leave the country as he sought to challenge extradition.
The five others named in Wednesday's indictment include Hungarian businessman Andras Knopp, 75; Ukrainian Suren Gevorgyan, 40; US-resident Indian Gajendra Lal, 50; Sri Lankan Periyasamy Sunderalingam, 60; and KVP Ramachandra Rao, 65, an Indian MP and former Andhra Pradesh official.
It said Rao, formerly a close advisor to the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, solicited and took bribes for himself and others in exchange for helping arrange the mining licenses.
All five remain at large, the Justice Department said.