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Saturday, 3 June, 2000, 02:35 GMT 03:35 UK
Ukraine ex-premier charged over killings
California vineyards
California vineyards: Lazarenko paid cash for a luxury estate
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko has been charged with arranging at least three contract killings.

The indictments are the latest in an avalanche of criminal accusations against Mr Lazarenko, who fled to the United States following investigations at home.

The Ukrainian authorities have charged him with ordering the 1996 killing of a prominent Ukrainian politician, Yevhen Shcherban, and two failed assassination attempts on high-ranking officials.

Mr Shcherban was shot dead in the eastern city of Donetsk, along with his wife.

News of the indictments came soon after Mr Lazarenko was charged in the US with laundering $114m he allegedly stole while in office.

He is being held in a US federal prison pending resolution of a Swiss extradition request, also on money laundering charges.

Ukraine repeated an extradition request on Friday despite the fact that Kiev does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

31 counts

The US Attorney's Office for Northern California said a federal grand jury had indicted Mr Lazarenko, 47, on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, seven counts of money laundering and 23 counts of transporting stolen property.

If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 370 years in prison.

Mr Lazarenko, previously a close associate of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, once paid $6.7m in cash for a California estate.

Ukrainian charges

The Ukrainian authorities have accused Mr Lazarenko of having profited by buying and selling natural gas contracts when he was Ukraine's energy minister, and of having siphoned off millions of dollars from state programmes as prime minister in 1996-97.

Pavlo Lazarenko
Lazarenko is in a US jail after years on the run

The US indictment said that between 1994 and 1999 Mr Lazarenko and his partners sent about $114m from Ukraine to US bank and brokerage accounts he controlled.

It said he also put $70m into numbered accounts at a bank in Antigua.

With Ukrainian investigators probing his business dealings, Mr Lazarenko fled to Switzerland with a Panamanian passport in December 1998.

The Swiss authorities arrested him after conducting their own investigations into his financial affairs, but they later released him on $2.5m bail.

Mr Lazarenko fled again, this time to the US, but he was rearrested in New York in February 1999 for visa irregularities.

'Political vendetta'

Mr Lazarenko has denied the money laundering charges and asked for political asylum in the US, saying he is the victim of a vendetta by his political enemies.

The US grand jury said it found evidence that Mr Lazarenko had "demanded and received payments" from individuals and entities as a condition for doing business in Ukraine.

Lazarenko's odyssey
July 1997 - Dismissed as prime minister
December 1998 - Arrested in Switzerland
February 1999 - Arrested in New York

It said Mr Lazarenko set up bank accounts in Switzerland and other countries where he deposited the money and used these accounts to disguise "the location, source and ownership" of the funds.

The grand jury called on Mr Lazarenko to forfeit to the US all property involved in the offences, including his 18-acre Marin County estate, which boasts at least five separate pools and was once home to Hollywood comedian Eddie Murphy.

Acting on a US request, the Swiss authorities in September froze some 20 bank accounts believed to belong to Mr Lazarenko.

No date has been set for Mr Lazarenko's arraignment on the US charges, but his defence lawyer Joe Russoniello said it would probably not occur before 16 June.

The maximum statutory penalty for each of the US money laundering counts is 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine.

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21 Feb 99 | Americas
Ukrainian ex-PM held in US
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