Ukrainian security agency says it suspects tycoon Firtash of embezzlement

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's state security agency has served businessman Dmytro Firtash and top managers of companies he controls with "notices of suspicion" of embezzlement, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said in a statement on Monday.

The SBU said that, acting with the Economic Security Bureau (BEB), it had uncovered the alleged theft of up to $485 million between 2016 and 2022 as part of a "large-scale scheme" involving Ukraine's gas transit system.

"Effectively we are talking about the embezzlement of money from ordinary Ukrainians who paid their utility bills," the statement said.

A statement issued by Firtash's company, Group DF, "firmly and categorically" rejected all the allegations as without legal foundation and "part of an ongoing campaign of corrupt pressure directed at its business operations."

It said the company and its legal advisers "will vigorously defend the interests of its businesses, personnel, and the shareholder in both Ukrainian and international courts."

The statement said Group DF had suffered losses linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and "will continue to support the defence effort against the Russian aggression."

While fighting Russia's invasion, Ukraine has also been seeking to reduce the political influence enjoyed by some businessmen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The European Union has also made tackling corruption a priority for Kyiv as it tries to join the wealthy bloc.

Ukraine imposed sanctions on Firtash last June, accusing him of selling titanium products that Kyiv said ended up being used by Russian military enterprises. Firtash denied the allegations.

Firtash, 58, rose to wealth and influence in Ukraine but has been indicted in the United States on bribery and racketeering charges. He denied wrongdoing and has fought extradition from Vienna.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk in KyivEditing by Ron Popeski, Timothy Heritage and Matthew Lewis)