Ukraine’s parliament was expected to vote yesterday on the appeal from the General Prosecutor’s Office to lift former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko’s deputy immunity. Lazarenko, leader of the Hromada faction, is suspected of embezzlement in Ukraine. He was arrested first in Switzerland at the end of last year on money-laundering charges, but was then released on bail (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 14, 23).
The vote, however, did not occur. The parliament committee for procedures–after several hours of deliberation behind closed doors–ruled to return the appeal to General Prosecutor Mykhaylo Potebenko for revision. The committee, chaired by Viktor Omelych of the Hromada party, charged that the appeal did not provide sufficient grounds to institute proceedings against Lazarenko. Another key committee–which addresses issues of organized crime and corruption–is also chaired by a Hromada member. Commenting on the event to Studio 1+1, Lazarenko said that the case “is purely political, and should be regarded only in this context.” Potebenko, disappointed by the committee’s decision, reiterated that, for him, the Lazarenko’s case remains purely criminal (Ukrainian television, February 4, Den, February 5).
In a newspaper interview a week ago, Lazarenko implied that President Kuchma is stirring up the case for political reasons, with an eye to this October’s presidential elections. “Kuchma has no alternative,” Lazarenko said. “He can only bet on the fight against organized crime and corruption. He needs a powerful figure–to slander” (Novye izvestia, Moscow, January 30). The Hromada recently named Lazarenko as its presidential nominee. This nomination gives Lazarenko, once the campaign begins officially this spring, additional immunity from prosecution. Only 1 percent of potential electors, however–as recent polls show–support Lazarenko as a potential president (see the Monitor, January 25, February 2). Meanwhile, the Swiss judge Laurent Kasper Ansermet invited Lazarenko for interrogation in Switzerland on March 1-2. Kasper Ansermet had reportedly said he did not know what he would do if Lazarenko refused to meet him (Ukrainian radio, January 24, Den, February 5). –OV
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