Former Ukraine Leader Will Appeal Remaining US Convictions

SAN FRANCISCO, USA -- A lawyer for a former prime minister of Ukraine said today he plans to appeal the remaining 14 criminal counts left in place against his client by a federal judge in San Francisco.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins affirmed a jury's conviction of Paulo Lazarenko, 53, on 14 counts of money laundering conspiracy, money laundering and transfer of millions of dollars Lazarenko allegedly gained through extortion and kickback in Ukraine.

Paulo Lazarenko and son (background right)

But Jenkins dismissed 15 other counts of wire fraud and transfer of stolen property on which the jury convicted Lazarenko last year. The judge said there wasn't enough evidence for those counts.

Lazarenko was prime minister -- the second-highest position in Ukraine -- in 1996 and 1997.

He was accused in the U.S. trial of using American banks, including several in San Francisco, to launder millions of dollars he allegedly obtained through extortion and kickbacks while holding a series of Ukrainian government posts in the 1990s.

Defense attorney Doron Weinberg said today, "We are very pleased the court set aside 15 counts. We believe we have very strong issues on appeal and we definitely plan to appeal the remaining convictions.''

The appeal will be lodged with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Kevin Ryan, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, said the ruling "validates the jury's convictions of Paulo Lazarenko in connection with his efforts to conceal and invest ill-gotten gains through American financial institutions.''

Ryan said, "Corrupt public officials, at home and abroad, whose activities violate the laws of the United States, are on notice that they can and will be zealously prosecuted and convicted here for these activities.''

Lazarenko was originally charged with a total of 53 counts. In an earlier ruling midway through the trial last year, Jenkins dismissed 24 other wire fraud and transfer counts.

The unusual trial required prosecutors to prove both that the alleged money laundering, wire fraud and stolen property transfers took place in violation of American law and that the money was gained illegally under Ukrainian law in effect at the time.

Defense lawyers contended Lazarenko gained his wealth legally through business deals during a tumultuous time in the early 1990s as Ukraine moved from a Communist to a capitalist economy.

The case is only the second time that a former foreign leader has been prosecuted in a U.S. court.

In the other case, deposed General Manuel Noriega of Panama was convicted in federal court in Miami in 1992 on cocaine trafficking charges and is now serving a 30-year sentence.

Lazarenko is currently free on house arrest at undisclosed location on an $86 million bond. Weinberg said the former prime minister is paying for the costs of a security task force to maintain the house arrest.

Jenkins set a hearing for June 23 to set a future date for Lazarenko's sentencing.

Lazarenko faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison for each money laundering count, but the actual sentence will be determined by the judge after considering federal guidelines.

Weinberg said he expects the dismissal of 15 counts to have a substantial impact on Lazarenko's potential sentence.

But Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for Ryan's office, said, "We expect significant time" to be ordered in the sentence on the remaining 14 counts.

Federal prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of $21.7 million in alleged ill-gotten gains.

Source: CBS