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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
The case against Pavlo Lazarenko
Pavlo Lazarenko
The charges against Lazarenko date back to the mid-1990s

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko has been sentenced to nine years in prison by a US court for extortion, money-laundering through American banks and fraud.

Lazarenko, who was also ordered to pay a $10m (5.29m) fine, was convicted in June 2004. He is appealing against his conviction.

The 53-year-old, who was prime minister from 1996-97, maintained that his fortune had been amassed through legal business operations.

He was convicted on 29 counts though a judge later threw out 15 of them for want of evidence.

Initially, US prosecutors had accused Lazarenko of laundering through American banks $114m (60m) stolen while in office in Ukraine.

That figure appears in a 2004 Transparency International Global Corruption report, in which the anti-graft agency ranked Lazarenko eighth out of the world's 10 most corrupt politicians in the previous two decades.

He was the first former head of government to be tried in the US after Panama's Manuel Noriega in 1992.

Swiss investigation

Lazarenko was arrested by immigration authorities at New York's Kennedy airport for visa irregularities in February 1999 after fleeing to the US seeking political asylum, saying he had received death threats in Ukraine.

LAZARENKO: KEY DATES
May 1996 - appointed PM
July 1997 - resigns under pressure
Dec 1998 - detained in Switzerland
Feb 1999 - arrested in New York
June 2000 - convicted in Switzerland
June 2004 - convicted in US
August 2006 -Sentenced to nine years in prison in US

Two months earlier, in December 1998, Lazarenko had been detained and then released on bail in Switzerland.

He was picked up after crossing the border by car from France on a Panamanian passport.

At that time, Ukrainian investigators were already probing his business dealings and the parliament in Kiev was debating whether to lift his immunity from prosecution.

But the Swiss authorities had conducted their own investigation into his financial affairs. His bail bond amounted to $2.5m (1.3m).

Lazarenko admitted moving money to Swiss banks but said he had acquired it legitimately.

In June 2000, a court in Geneva found him guilty in absentia of laundering $6.6m (3.5m) through Swiss banks. He was given an 18-month suspended sentence and $6.5m (3.4) was confiscated from his Swiss accounts.

Kuchma's man

Lazarenko was appointed prime minister in May 1996 by then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma but was forced to resign in July 1997 after they fell out.

While in office, he exercised control over a large swathe of the economy and influenced the privatisation of Ukraine's vast natural gas sector.

Most of the allegations of embezzlement of state funds and abuse of office against him are related to the fight for gas revenues between rival political and business groupings in Ukraine in the 1990s.

He had previously held the post of energy minister.

Murder charges in Ukraine

Gas money is believed to be behind some of the more sinister accusations against him.

In June 2000, Ukrainian prosecutors charged Lazarenko with ordering the 1996 killing of a prominent politician, Yevhen Shcherban, and two failed assassination attempts on high-ranking officials.

He denies the charges and claims he himself was targeted in a bomb explosion in July 1996.

His trial in the US was held in San Francisco, California, where he has an 18-acre estate, for which he is said to have paid $6.7m (3.5m) in cash.

Several companies and banks based in countries including Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the US were involved in the case against him.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Ukraine
15 Aug 06 |  Country profiles
Ex-Ukraine PM convictions halved
21 May 05 |  Americas
Suharto tops corruption rankings
25 Mar 04 |  Business
US jury convicts ex-Ukrainian PM
03 Jun 04 |  Americas
Ukraine MPs back murder probe
05 Mar 02 |  Europe

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