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Many Charges Dropped Against Ukraine's Ex-Premier

Prague, 10 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Claiming that the government was unable to establish proof of violations of existing Ukrainian law and sufficient evidence of fraud to sustain a conviction, U.S. Federal Judge Martin Jenkins of the Northern District Court in San Francisco on 7 May dismissed 23 of the 53 charges contained in the indictment against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko.

In a trial that began on 15 March and which has received almost no coverage in the Ukrainian media, Lazarenko was indicted on charges of mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and interstate transportation of stolen property. Lazarenko's trial is the second such proceeding brought against a former foreign leader in the United States. The first was against former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Justin Kane of the Center for Investigative Journalism in San Francisco told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service: "All charges related to [Unified] Energy Systems of Ukraine [UESU] and opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko were dismissed. The judge also dismissed all charges connected to the energy company Itera, the alleged extortion of businessman Oleksiy Dydyatkovskyy, and the sale of prefabricated homes to the Ukrainian government.

"Lazarenko's acquittal on charges of wire fraud and transportation of stolen property leaves 28 counts in the indictment, all related to Lazarenko's alleged extortion of his former partner, Petro Kyrychenko, and the alleged fraud at the Naukovy State Farm. Prosecutors had already dropped two additional charges on Wednesday afternoon." The ruling substantially undermined the prosecutors' case against Lazarenko, casting doubt on whether they can convince jurors that Lazarenko violated both U.S. and Ukrainian law. In his order, Judge Jenkins agreed with the defense's arguments that the prosecutors had not established a violation of Ukrainian law for the charges he dismissed.

"The judge consistently rejected the government’s theories that Lazarenko had defrauded the Ukrainian government and had deprived Ukrainian citizens of his honest services," Kane said.

Judge Jenkins concluded that "the government has utterly failed to establish material harm" to the Ukrainian people or government. He also dismissed a government claim that Lazarenko had defrauded RAO Gazprom in the course of his actions during the restructuring of the Ukrainian gas industry.

Judge Jenkins left a majority of the charges in the indictment standing. Writing in his response to a request by the defense to acquit their client under rule 29(a) of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, Judge Jenkins stated that the government had presented sufficient evidence "that a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Lazarenko committed extortion with respect to Mr. Kyrychenko" and did not honor the defense's request to drop related charges.

Kyrychenko testified on behalf of the government at the trial.

Lazarenko was prime minister of Ukraine from May 1996 to July 1997. He was detained in February 1999 attempting to enter the United States on an invalid visa and soon afterward was arrested and indicted. His defense team maintains that he is the victim of persecution by the government of President Leonid Kuchma. Lazarenko spent almost five years in federal detention in San Francisco before his trial began in mid-March.

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