FIRTASH: How the Trump Impeachment Scandal Leads back to British Brexiters
The oligarch at the centre of the Trump-Ukraine scandal is linked to the Vote Leave campaign and the Conservative Party. Steve Komarnyckyj unravels the background of Dmytro Firtash.
Dmytro Firtash, the Ukrainian oligarch at the centre of the Donald Trump-Ukraine scandal, is closely connected to the Vote Leave campaign and leading Tory Brexiters.
The two associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani arrested last month for funnel foreign funds into US politics, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were reportedly financed by Firtash.
They also pitched a gas deal to Trump’s allies in a bid to change the management of Ukraine’s state gas company Naftogaz.
Firtash has been in conflict with Naftogaz since 2009 when his Rosukrenergo firm was forced out of Ukraine. He also faces extradition to the US on corruption charges and is seeking Washington allies. Rosukrenergo was allegedly controlled by Russian mobster Semion Mogilevich, according to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in 2010.
However, Firtash’s links to senior Conservatives remain intact despite his suspected criminality.
Who is Dmytro Firtash? What Impact has he had on the UK?
Firtash was born in 1965 in the Ternopilska province of Ukraine and made his first big money by trading Ukrainian dried milk for Uzbek cotton which he sold in Hong Kong.
During the 1990s, while in Moscow, he came up with a ‘goods for Turkmenistan gas barter’ scheme. However, he reportedly had to ask Mogilevich for permission to run his business and allegedly began a long-term relationship with the mafia.
As Firtash’s empire expanded, he developed contacts in the UK through British businessman Robert Shetler-Jones, who began his career in Kyiv in 1991. Shetler-Jones made donations totalling £57,000 to the Tories from 2007 to 2008. In 2007, he and Firtash helped establish the British Ukrainian Society which includes senior Conservatives in its ranks.
At one point, MP John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, was a director of the society and its chair is the senior Tory Lord Richard Risby, who is also an advisor for one of Shetler-Jones’s companies, Scythian Ltd.
Whittingdale is a staunch Brexiter who has visited Ukraine on several occasions, receiving thousands in travel expenses through the British Ukrainian Society. Lord Risby similarly has been generously rewarded for his work as a society director.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian oligarch’s interests reach deeper, into the Vote Leave campaign camp. The Firtash Foundation was established as a UK company in 2008. Jack Wakefield, the brother-in-law of the Vote Leave campaign director and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings, was a director from 2008 to 2013.
Firtash also donated £6 million to Cambridge University from 2010 onwards to launch its Ukrainian Studies department. The foundation hosted a festival of Ukrainian culture, ‘Days of Ukraine’, in London in October 2013. The festivities were launched by Firtash as he opened the London Stock Exchange.
However, only five months later, Firtash was arrested in Vienna and began his long battle against extradition to the US. The indictment describes him as the head of a criminal organisation that had bribed Indian public officials.
Firtash’s generosity may not save him from US justice but has it protected him from being investigated in the UK?
The sister of the former Firtash Foundation director, Jack Wakefield, is Mary Wakefield, the commissioning editor of the Spectator. The magazine published a flattering profile of Firtash in 2014 written by Breitbart London co-editor James Delingpole.
Delingpole’s article and the British Ukrainian Society shaped a climate in which a shady oligarch was seen as a philanthropic businessman.
This and his links to the Conservative Party might explain why his involvement in the UK has not been scrutinised.
John Whittingdale, for his part, claims that he never communicates with Firtash, according to a 2016 interview with the Ukrainian media outlet hromadske. However, his pro-Brexit views are extremely convenient for the man whose trips to Ukraine were financed by the British Ukrainian Society.
A weakened EU would be less likely to scrutinise Firtash’s links to Mogilevich and his influence on the EU energy market. Hungarian President Viktor Orban, who was befriended by Mogilevich in the 1990s, imports gas through Rosukrenergo. Orban says that the European Energy Union is a threat to Hungary and, according to the New York Times, turned Trump against Ukraine during a 2019 meeting.
Firtash is keen to see an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Whittingdale and his economic guru Sir Gerard Lyons see Ukraine as a potential source of cheap imports after Brexit. Lyons, co-author of Clean Brexit and the former chief economic advisor to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, recently attended the Ukrainian Financial Forum in Kiev to promote the benefits of “global Britain”.
Firtash is a living example of the kind of wild capitalism favoured by Vote Leave. Britain increasingly resembles the kind of Russian oligarchy he sprouted from, where Bentleys cruise past rough sleepers and politicians prostitute themselves to shady billionaires.
Is that really what people who voted to ‘take back control’ on 23 June 2016 want?