Ex-Ukraine Leader Seen Getting Decade in U.S. Jail

BERKELEY, USA -- A former Ukrainian prime minister is likely to be sentenced to at least 10 years in U.S. prison even though a federal judge threw out half the charges against him, the case's former prosecutor said.

After a complex trial last year, a San Francisco jury convicted Pavlo Lazarenko, who became a multimillionaire while in power in Ukraine during the 1990s, of extortion and laundering money through California banks.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins ruled late on Friday that there was not enough evidence to sustain convictions on 15 out of 29 counts against Lazarenko, Ukraine's prime minister from 1996 to 1997.

But the former head of the U.S. Attorney's team prosecuting the case, Martha Boersch, said the judge's decision was not likely to affect the amount of time Lazarenko spends in U.S. prison.

Each of the eight money laundering charges — which represent most of the 14 remaining charges — carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

"The bottom line is that in the end it does not matter," she told Reuters. "It will be at least ten years."

The judge said a sentencing date would be determined on June 23. The former Ukrainian leader remains under house arrest at a San Francisco apartment.

Lazarenko's lawyer, Daniel Horowitz, was thrilled by the judge's ruling, calling it "a tremendous victory."

A U.S. jury hearing the case last June found Lazarenko guilty on all 29 counts, which included conspiracy to launder money, money laundering and fraud, as well as transportation of stolen property.

Defense lawyers are still appealing the case.

Lazarenko became a multimillionaire while in power in Ukraine during the 1990s, a time of poverty and upheaval in the former Soviet nation of Ukraine. Testimony in his case provided details of how those in power profited in the tumultuous transformations after the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.

Boersch, now a private attorney, spearheaded a U.S. probe dating back to the late 1990s that found Lazarenko used his position to extort millions of dollars and laundered funds through California banks.

Source: ABC News