Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 224

The leader of the Hromada parliamentary faction and former premier, Pavlo Lazarenko, was detained Wednesday evening in Basel, Switzerland when he tried to cross the French-Swiss border with a Panamanian passport. Lazarenko was escorted for interrogation to Geneva, whose authorities sanctioned his detention. Lazarenko was returning from a meeting of the Ukrainian-EU parliamentary committee in Brussels separately from the rest of the Ukrainian delegation, in a private car and without any official assistants (AP, Kievskie vedomosti, Fakty i kommentarii, Den, Ukrainian agencies and television, December 2-4). Studio 1+1 and STV suggested that Lazarenko’s detention may be connected to the recent arrest in Europe of Sergei Mikhailov, the leader of Moscow’s Solntsevo criminal grouping, who apparently had common acquaintances with Lazarenko.

“France Press” and “Neue Zuercher Zeitung” reported that Lazarenko’s accounts in Swiss banks were blocked. Ukrainian television yesterday quoted former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Oleh Lytvak as saying that Lazarenko had over US$1.7 billion in accounts in foreign banks. Lytvak and the former chair of the parliamentary committee for organized crime and corruption, Hryhory Omelchenko, said yesterday that Lazarenko had, in fact, up to a dozen different Ukrainian passports and a passport of a foreign state. Omelchenko said that he was surprised that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies had had no reaction to this fact until now.

At home, Lazarenko, the Ukrainian premier in 1996-1997, is suspected of large-scale corruption and embezzlement, connected to activities of the corporation United Energy Systems of Ukraine, which controlled about a half of the lucrative Ukrainian wholesale natural gas market, when Lazarenko was in the government. Lazarenko, as a member of parliament, enjoys a full immunity from prosecution. In October this year, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko announced that he had indisputable proof of Lazarenko’s crimes and called on the parliament to cancel Lazarenko’s parliamentary immunity. At the same time, the former premier hinted in the media that he may retaliate by publicizing compromising information about illegal activities of certain high officials (the Monitor, October 26, 29). Today’s “Kievskie vedomosti” cited unnamed Lazarenko assistants, who said that Potebenko visited Switzerland two weeks ago and the goal of his visit remains unknown.

Ukrainian media had earlier reported that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies–looking for assistance in their investigation of Lazarenko–turned to their colleagues in Switzerland, where Lazarenko reportedly keeps most of “his” money in bank accounts. Several months ago Lazarenko was considered a potentially very strong presidential contestant in the elections of October 1999. Recently, very much due to negative media coverage connecting the former premier’s name with organized crime and corruption, Lazarenko’s public rating has steadily fallen.–OV