Judge Drops Convictions Against Lazarenko - Denies New Trial

SAN FRANCISCO, USA -- A federal judge has tossed out half of the convictions against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in a multi-count money-laundering and fraud verdict - but refused to grant a new trial.

In a painstaking review of 29 counts in the verdict, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins in a ruling Friday dismissed 15 of the counts, a number of them for wire fraud. But he reaffirmed 14 other convictions, primarily for money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property.

Former Ukrainian PM Pavlo Lazarenko

Lazarenko, 51, was convicted last June in connection with a series of shady business deals in his homeland while he was prime minister.

He denied he siphoned funds or accepted bribes, claiming his multimillion dollar fortune was earned legitimately at a time his country, emerging from the Soviet Union's collapse, had a new, and lawless, free-market economy.

U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan said Friday that the ruling "validates the jury's convictions ... in connection with his efforts to conceal and invest ill-gotten gains through American financial institutions.

"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 such activities," he added.

But Lazarenko's attorney Dan Horowitz was also pleased with the ruling.

"Half the counts have been knocked out and we haven't even gotten to the Court of Appeal yet," said Horowitz. "This is just another step toward victory. It's not over." Horowitz has argued that Lazarenko was targeted by his political rivals. Horowitz said that the former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, withheld evidence that could have exonerated him.

Lazarenko sought political asylum in the United States in 1999 during his country's presidential election campaign, claiming he had survived three assassination attempts. Instead, the U.S. government arrested him.

He was the first former head of government to be tried in the U.S. since Manuel Noriega of Panama.

Source: AP