Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 73

The destiny of former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko–who is both seeking asylum in the United States and wanted in Ukraine on embezzlement charges–remains unclear after the immigration court in San Francisco on April 13 postponed his case until May. In March the New York immigration court reportedly failed to recognize Lazarenko as a political refugee, Lazarenko having had announced his intention to run in Ukraine’s October presidential elections. At a press conference yesterday, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko was confident that Lazarenko will be extradited to Ukraine because, as he said, “this is a political issue” and America “is not an asylum for thieves.” Potebenko said that Lazarenko cannot run for president: “He committed a crime against the state and must be arrested.” Potebenko’s statement came in reaction to Lazarenko’s lawyers’ having said that Lazarenko will run for president regardless of his temporary residence abroad. The lawyers also said that Lazarenko may seek asylum elsewhere in the United States if he is denied shelter in California, or in another country altogether if he is denied residency in the United States (Ukrainian agencies and television, April 14; Studio 1+1, April 13; UNIAN, April 8).

Lazarenko’s chances in the upcoming elections, however, are now negligible. The Ukrainian parliament has agreed to prosecute him, his faction in the legislature (the Hromada) has split and the media which he once controlled have either been closed or found other leaders (see the Monitor, February 18, March 5). In various recent presidential public opinion polls, Lazarenko has received no more than a 1-2 percent approval rating. He apparently needs a vigorous campaign to build up his image as a victim of political persecution–both to achieve political asylum abroad and to avoid punishment for his alleged crimes in Ukraine. At the same time, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, now revamping his image as a corruption fighter (which helped him win the elections in 1994), would certainly prefer to have Lazarenko in Ukraine, so that he [Kuchma] can benefit from what would undoubtedly be a highly publicized trial. Lazarenko is also wanted in Switzerland, where he was arrested on charges of money- laundering in December, but later released on bail. –OV