Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's conviction on money-laundering and conspiracy charges was upheld by a federal appeals court Friday, a judgment that will keep the long-incarcerated politician in U.S. prisons for at least several more years.
Lazarenko, 56, was head of the Ukrainian government from May 1996 to June 1997, during which, prosecutors said, he siphoned at least $200 million from the nation's coffers through elaborate schemes of extortion, cronyism and kickbacks. Ukrainian authorities have also sought his extradition to face charges of complicity in the killings of several political opponents in the 1990s.
In U.S. custody since February 1999, when he fled a pending indictment in his homeland and arrived in New York with an outdated visa and an invalid diplomatic passport, Lazarenko was prosecuted in America because much of his ill-gotten money was funneled through U.S. banks. He was initially charged with 53 counts stemming from schemes involving monopoly natural gas sales, inflated government purchases of foreign property and unauthorized transfers to his personal bank accounts in Switzerland, Hungary, Panama and the Caribbean island of Antigua.
In May 2004, a federal jury found Lazarenko guilty on 14 of the counts, and the rest were dismissed by the trial judge, mostly because of lack of documentation that money shuffled among his bank accounts was directly traceable to criminal activity. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison.