On December 22, former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko made his first public appearance after his release on bail from a Geneva prison last week. Lazarenko is charged with embezzlement and money-laundering at home and in Switzerland (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 8, 22). Addressing Ukraine’s parliament, Lazarenko claimed that his Swiss arrest was instigated by the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to discredit him and his party, the Hromada. Lazarenko announced that nineteen out of twenty-one counts he was charged with in Geneva were proved false, and the remaining two will be cleared up soon. The former premier challenged the PGO’s request to parliament to cancel his immunity by saying he is willing to give up the immunity if President Kuchma and his “close supporters” do the same.
Speaking at a press conference at UNIAN news agency yesterday afternoon, Lazarenko was self-assured and jovial. He stigmatized the PGO’s charges as politically motivated, and said that by indicting him, the authorities “have unleashed a dirty war, in which there will be no winners”–which sounded like a threat. Apparently in an effort to besmirch his opponents in the government, who are accusing him of corruption, Lazarenko claimed that “there have been certain agreements, a threshold which was not to have been stepped over. One side has done so. The other is about to do so.” Lazarenko alleged that certain Kuchma aides have illegal bank accounts abroad. He also claimed that over 100 domestic enterprises have been handed out to parliamentarians in return for votes on certain issues.
Lazarenko had to indirectly confess that in redrawing the domestic gas market in 1995-1996 as deputy premier and then premier, what he did was: “I am no angel, unfortunately, this is true.” When in power, Lazarenko reportedly helped the private importer of Russian gas, United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), gain control over the most lucrative sectors of the domestic economy and evade taxation on large scale. Lazarenko’s close associate Yulia Tymoshenko, who was then president of UESU, now plays a leading role in Hromada and chairs the parliament’s committee for the budget. Lazarenko and Tymoshenko both enjoy parliamentary immunity, and thus are out of reach of Ukrainian prosecution.
President Kuchma reacted to Lazarenko’s statements by saying that it is up to the court to determine the truth. Meanwhile two factions in parliament, the reformist Rukh and the radical left Progressive Socialist Party, announced that they would vote for lifting the immunity from Lazarenko. The date of the vote is not yet known (Ukrainian television, agencies, December 22). –OV
ZHIRINOVSKY IN TRANSDNIESTER.