A French court on Thursday postponed to Jan. 19 a hearing on whether to extradite Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantyn Zhevago to his home country.
The court in Chambery, in eastern France, is set to decide later in the day whether the businessman, one of Ukraine’s richest men, will stay behind bars in the meantime or can be freed.
The 48-year-old billionaire, who controls London-listed iron pellet producer Ferrexpo (FXPO.L), was arrested and detained in France in late December at Ukraine’s request.
Ukraine’s state bureau of investigation DBR has said the billionaire was wanted on suspicion of embezzlement and money-laundering linked to the disappearance of $113 million from the now bankrupt lender Finance & Credit Bank.
Zhevago, who served in the Ukrainian parliament from 1998 to 2019, primarily as an independent, denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the request to extradite him to Ukraine.
Zhevago told the court the case against him was political.
“I ask for your permission to leave prison until the next hearing, and I will do everything you asked,” said, speaking via an interpreter. He offered to post a million-euro bail to be freed in the meantime, alongside other guarantees.
“This is the first time I’ve been in jail. I didn’t do these things I’m accused of in this case, I don’t deserve this.”
Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for Zhevago in 2019, with an international warrant following in 2021.
Both his lawyers and the public prosecutor on Thursday told the court they needed more time to prepare for the extradition hearing itself, which the judges accepted, setting the new date to Jan.19.
The case comes amid Ukraine’s broader efforts to clean up its oligarch-dominated economy. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a small group of elites have dominated its political system and economy. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pledged to reduce the role of oligarchs in the economy.
Monthly publication Forbes Ukraine has estimated Zhevago’s wealth at $2.4 billion in 2021. The publication estimated Zhevago’s wealth at $1.4 billion at the end of 2022.
“He must be able to continue to manage his business, his businesses, and in prison it’s very difficult,” one of Zhevago’s lawyers, Etienne Arnaud, told the court, arguing for him to be set free.