The list of international criminal charges against embattled ex-Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko has grown longer. Previously Lazarenko faced accusations of money laundering in Switzerland and Antigua, and large-scale embezzlement and abuse of power in Ukraine. Now he faces more and graver charges: murder in Ukraine and money laundering in the United States, where he applied for political asylum last year, alleging political persecution in Ukraine.
On May 30, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko made a sensation by alleging Lazarenko’s involvement in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and an influential Donetsk businessman. Ukrainian media has long insinuated that Lazarenko might have been involved in Shcherban’s 1996 gangland-style assassination in the Donetsk airport: The two men were staunch rivals vying for control over the lucrative Donbas heavy industry, in the historic Donetsk Coal Basin. But the hit men who had shot Shcherban were later themselves found dead, and the murder, it seemed, would go unsolved. On June 2, the chief Ukrainian investigator into Lazarenko’s case, Mykola Obikhod, confirmed to the media that the Prosecutor General’s Office had indicted Lazarenko for contracting Shcherban’s murder. Obikhod also alleged that Lazarenko was also involved in the murders of several other Donetsk entrepreneurs in 1995-1996.
The sensation of announcing the most recent allegations was timed for U.S. President Bill Clinton’s June 5 visit to Kyiv. Kyiv apparently wanted to demonstrate that Lazarenko’s case is unique in the context of Ukrainian corruption. Clinton was widely expected to address the topic of corruption–which official Kyiv believes is exaggerated internationally–with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Ukraine also would like to press ahead with a request to the United States for Lazarenko’s extradition.
Yet the hopes of Ukrainian investigators to get hold of Lazarenko may be dashed. Lazarenko faced another serious accusation almost simultaneously in California, where he is awaiting a hearing on a Swiss extradition request. According to a U.S. federal grand jury indictment, unsealed on June 1, Lazarenko is charged with seven counts of money laundering totaling US$114 million, twenty-three counts of transporting stolen property and one count of conspiracy. According to the indictment, Lazarenko used his government posts–as governor of Dnipropetrovsk Region in 1992-1995, Ukrainian first deputy premier for energy in 1995-1996, and premier in 1996-1997–beginning in 1992 as leverage for personal payments from companies as a condition of their operating in Ukraine. The grand jury also alleged that Lazarenko used stolen money to buy a luxurious house and estate north of San Francisco. If convicted, Lazarenko may face a prison term of up to 370 years.
In Ukraine, the California indictment may cast a shadow on Deputy Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, whose chair is already shaky following her attempt to revamp the domestic energy, which disturbed the main players in this market. United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a private enterprise which Tymoshenko headed in 1995-1997, was heavily patronized by Lazarenko, and the grand jury’s indictment mentioned a “businesswoman” from whose two companies Lazarenko allegedly received bribes (DJ, Segodnya, June 1; Interfax, STB TV, Kievskie vedoomosti, June 2; see the Monitor, May 17.)
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