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Former Ukraine prime minister's conviction upheld

A U.S. appeals court lets stand eight of 14 laundering and conspiracy charges against Pavlo Lazarenko, who fled Ukraine in 1999.

April 11, 2009|Carol J. Williams

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In U.S. custody since February 1999, when he fled a pending indictment in his homeland and arrived in New York with an outdated visa and an invalid diplomatic passport, Lazarenko was prosecuted in America because much of his ill-gotten money was funneled through U.S. banks.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.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction on six counts but upheld the remaining eight. The opinion also noted that the defendant's request for rehearing of his case by an 11-judge panel had been denied, and Friday's ruling was therefore the final judgment of the appeals court.

Lazarenko was also tried in absentia in Switzerland in 2000 and convicted of money laundering. The Swiss government seized $6.6 million from his account there in addition to imposing an 18-month sentence, which was suspended because the defendant was already incarcerated at the federal prison in Dublin, Calif. Lazarenko is also sought by Antigua for suspicious activity in Euro Fed Bank there, in which he had $104 million deposited.

The appeals court sent Lazarenko's case back to the trial court in San Francisco to recalculate his sentence in view of the overturned counts of fraud and interstate transport of stolen property.

Lazarenko has been at the minimum-security facility in Dublin for a decade. It is primarily a women's prison but has an administrative detention area for pretrial prisoners. He probably will be moved to another federal prison after sentencing.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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