Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 236

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has officially requested the parliament to remove the deputy immunity which Ukraine’s former premier, now leader of the Hromada party and faction, Pavlo Lazarenko, now has. Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko announced this on December 21, saying that the prosecution has “indisputable proofs” to charge Lazarenko with embezzlement of over US$2 million and illegal operations with accounts in foreign banks, totaling 4.4 million Swiss francs and some US$1.2 million. For this, Lazarenko may face up to fifteen years of imprisonment–if the immunity is lifted. Potebenko also added that investigation into alleged embezzlement of another US$17 million by Lazarenko is now underway (Ukrainian agencies, STV, December 21). Potebenko’s announcement followed President Kuchma’s television interview on December 20, in which he said that, while suspected embezzlers are hiding behind parliamentary immunity, “the common people are pointing the finger of suspicion at all of us.” In an obvious reference to Lazarenko, Kuchma said, “If he is a criminal, then he is a criminal and not a political figure” (Ukrainian 1st TV Channel, December 20). Lazarenko has been regarded as a strong rival to Kuchma in the presidential elections scheduled for October 1999.

In a parallel investigation in Switzerland, where he was arrested for using a Panamanian passport earlier this month, Lazarenko is suspected of money-laundering, and his bank accounts there are frozen (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 8). Last week Lazarenko was released from a Geneva prison on bail of over 4 million Swiss francs, and on December 19 he returned to his native Dnipropetrovsk. Lazarenko’s lawyer refused to disclose who paid the bail (Ukrainian and foreign agencies, December 18-19).

The prosecution’s request to parliament concerning Lazarenko’s immunity has long been anticipated. As far back as March, shortly before the parliament elections, Potebenko asked to lift the immunity from Lazarenko himself, but then withdrew the request. More recently, in September, Potebenko turned to the lawmakers to lift the immunity from Lazarenko’s close associate, Mykola Ahafonov, also suspected of embezzlement (see the Monitor, September 28). Commenting to television on the possible vote on Lazarenko in parliament, the deputies were mostly very skeptical about extradition, quoting the corporate interests of lawmakers, who are interested in preserving the parliamentary immunity as such (Ukrainian television, December 18-21). –OV