Global Policy Forum

Swiss Convict Lazarenko of Money-Laundering

June 30, 2000

GENEVA (Reuters) - Former Ukraine Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko has been convicted of money-laundering by a Swiss court which confiscated nearly $6.6 million from his Swiss bank accounts, his lawyer said on Friday.

Lazarenko -- currently in a federal prison in San Francisco where he faces charges of laundering $114 million allegedly stolen while in office -- was also given a 18-month suspended prison term, according to his lawyer Paul Gully-Hart.

The verdict handed down late on Thursday by a three-judge lower court credited the former premier with time served in the United States where he has been detained since February 1999.

``He was given an 18-month prison sentence which was suspended,'' Gully-Hart told Reuters. ``Mr. Lazarenko has accepted two charges of money-laundering in relation to facts in the Ukraine where he confused his public office and private commercial interests in 1993-94, when he was a regional governor...He challenges any other accusations.''

Gully-Hart said that Switzerland would withdraw its request to the United States to extradite his 47-year-old client. ``As soon as the decision is binding, the request of extradition will have to be withdrawn. This is the end of the case in Switzerland.''

Swiss media reported that the agreement had been negotiated between Lazarenko's lawyers and the Geneva chief prosecutor Bernard Bertossa at a hearing on Monday. Neither Bertossa nor other Geneva judicial officials were available for comment.

A Swiss federal police spokesman in Berne said that the extradition request had not been withdrawn yet, but could be if the prison sentence is suspended once the ruling is final.

``An amount of nearly $6.6 million, by consent of the two parties, has been confiscated and will have to be paid to the state of Geneva,'' Gully-Hart said. The funds would eventually be restituted to the Ukraine, according to the lawyer.

The ruling comes days after Switzerland reported a five-fold jump in funds seized on suspicion of money-laundering. It froze 1.5 billion Swiss francs ($909 million) in the year to March 31 amid probes into alleged Russian money-laundering and Swiss bank accounts of the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

Lazarenko, who was Ukrainian prime minister from June 1996 to June 1997, was arrested in Switzerland in December 1998 as he entered the country near Basel on a Panamanian passport.

After being indicted by a Geneva judge on charges of money-laundering, he was released on bail. In February 1999 he was detained in the United States for visa irregularities which led to a wider investigation there.

Ukrainian state prosecutors have charged Lazarenko, who was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in February 1999, with misappropriating state property.

They began compiling a case against Lazarenko after he was removed from office in 1997, probing the vast business empire he built trading natural gas and other commodities amid charges that he seized and laundered tens of millions of dollars.

Earlier this month in San Francisco, he pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of laundering $114 million.

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