Sun, Aug 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Former Ukrainian PM sentenced to prison by US judge

AFP , SAN FRANCISCO

Former Ukrainian prime minister Pavel Lazarenko was sentenced by a US judge on Friday to nine years in prison for money laundering, wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property, authorities said.

Ukraine's prime minister during 1996-1997, Lazarenko, 53, was arrested shortly after arriving in the US in February 1999 for laundering millions of dollars through US banks.

He was found guilty by a San Francisco jury on 29 counts in the case on June 3, 2004, which a judge later reviewed and cut back to 14 counts.

In addition to the jail term on Friday, he was also hit with a US$10 million fine and faces three years of supervised release after he completes his sentence.

Lazarenko was the first former foreign leader tried and found guilty in the US since former Panama president Manuel Noriega was convicted in 1992 for drug trafficking. Noriega received a 30-year jail sentence.

Prosecutors charged Lazarenko specifically with extorting and stealing US$44 million from a businessman and a state company over a seven-year period.

He was accused of laundering US$21 million through US banks as well via numbered accounts in Switzerland and Antigua.

"Pavel Lazarenko misused his office to steal tens of millions of dollars for himself at the expense of the Ukrainian people and then sought to use the US, and its banking system, as a safe haven to escape from the crimes he committed in Ukraine, Switzerland and elsewhere," said US Attorney Kevin Ryan.

Lazarenko used some of the money to buy a home worth US$6 million in wealthy Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco, using a sham company, the justice department said.

During the trial, Lazarenko's lawyers insisted that he had earned the money by doing business during the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

They also said he was the victim of a plot by a rival politician, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.

In 2000 Lazarenko was sentenced in absentia in Ukraine to 18 months in prison with probation for laundering US$6.6 million.

He was also accused by Ukraine authorities of having ordered two murders while he was the governor and prime minister of Dniepropetrovsk between 1992 and 1995.

The US Justice Department continues to seek a court judgment that Lazarenko forfeit US$22.8 million. That request will be reviewed on Sept. 29.

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