CHAMBERY, France, Jan 5 (ReutersA French court on Thursday decided to release Ukrainian billionaire Konstantin Zhevago on bail ahead of an extradition hearing on January 19 over whether he should be sent to Ukraine to face embezzlement charges.
Zhevago was not arrested: The 48-year-old billionaire who controls London-listed iron pellet producer Ferrexpo (FXPO.L) was arrested in France in late December at the request of Ukraine and has been in custody ever since.
Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation DBR said the billionaire is wanted on suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering related to the disappearance of $113 million from the now bankrupt Finance and Credit Bank.
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The businessman, one of the richest people in Ukraine, told the court that he had done nothing wrong and should not be extradited.
“This is my first time in jail. I didn’t do what I’m accused of in this case, I don’t deserve it“, he said through an interpreter.
“I ask your permission to leave the prison until the next hearing, and I will do whatever you asked.“, – he said.
A court in Chambéry, in eastern France, said it had agreed to release him on bail of 1 million euros ($1.05 million), confirming a report by one of Zhevago’s lawyers, François Zimer.
The court added that Zhevago, who cannot leave France, must hand over his two passports to the authorities, report to the local police three times a week and answer court summons.
The court was originally supposed to hold an extradition hearing on Thursday, but Zhevago’s lawyers and the prosecutor said they needed more time to prepare, to which the judges agreed, setting January 19 as the new date.
Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for Zhevago in 2019 and an international warrant in 2021.
His arrest in France comes amid Ukraine’s larger effort to clean up the oligarch-dominated economy. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, its political system and economy have been dominated by a small group of elites. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to reduce the role of oligarchs in the economy.
Forbes Ukraine monthly estimated Zhevago’s net worth at $2.4 billion in 2021. The publication estimated Zhevago’s fortune at $1.4 billion at the end of 2022.
“He should be able to continue to run his business, his business, and in prison it is very difficult,” one of Zhevago’s lawyers, Etienne Arnault, told the court, advocating for his release.
Juliet Jabhiro, Skeleton.Info