Former Ukrainian PM Sentenced for Fraud

The Associated Press
Friday, August 25, 2006; 4:01 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko was sentenced Friday to nine years in federal prison for money laundering, wire fraud and extortion.

The sentence, which also included $10 million in fines, was half of the maximum sought by prosecutors, who said Lazarenko misused his office in the former Soviet republic to get rich through business schemes.

Lazarenko, 53, was the first former head of government to be tried in the United States since Manuel Noriega of Panama.

A jury in U.S. District Court convicted him in June 2004, and he has since been under house arrest at an undisclosed location on $86 million bail.

Lazarenko denied he siphoned funds or accepted bribes in exchange for government contracts and favors, claiming his multimillion-dollar fortune was earned legitimately when his country, emerging from the Soviet Union's collapse, had a new and lawless free-market economy.

Defense attorneys, who had pushed for a four-year sentence, called the prosecution politically motivated and said political foes withheld evidence that could have exonerated him. Lazarenko has appealed his conviction.

He sought political asylum in the U.S. in 1999 during his country's presidential election campaign, claiming he had faced three assassination attempts. Instead, the U.S. government arrested and tried him to prevent criminals from using the United States as a safe haven for dirty money.

According to the U.S. government, Lazarenko used his political clout to set up an international underground network of bank accounts to launder profits made through clandestine schemes involving natural gas, agribusiness, housing and other businesses in Ukraine.

Authorities claimed $114 million was directed to banks in the U.S., mostly in San Francisco.

In March, he was elected to a regional parliament office in Ukraine.

© 2006 The Associated Press