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Lazarenko Found Guilty Of Money Laundering

By Justin Kane

San Francisco (RFE/RL) -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko faces up to 20 years in prison and a lengthy appeal process after being convicted on 3 June in a U.S. federal court of money laundering, wire fraud, and extortion.

Jurors found Lazarenko guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, seven counts of money laundering, 10 counts of wire fraud, and 11 counts of interstate transportation of stolen property. The Ukrainian crimes underlying the U.S. charges were the extortion of Lazarenko's former partner, Petro Kirichenko, the defrauding of Naukovyy State Farm, and honest services fraud, the jury said.

As the courtroom deputy read the verdict, Lazarenko barely stirred, although one of his attorneys slammed his pen down in disgust. According to defense attorney Doron Weinberg, Lazarenko, who was prepared for the verdict, simply turned to him and asked, "Where shall I go now?" Weinberg told Lazarenko to wait for him, and Lazarenko left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
"There were so many rude legal mistakes that it's beyond any comment." -- Lazarenko

Lazarenko kept his silence until after an afternoon hearing that set the schedule for his sentencing, his motions for a new trial and for acquittal, and his appeal. "The Ninth Circuit Court [of Appeals] will put everything in its place," Lazarenko said. "There were so many rude legal mistakes that it's beyond any comment."

Lazarenko will not be sentenced until after 16 September, when the court will hear the defense's motion for a new trial and its second motion for acquittal under Rule 29 of U.S. federal rules of criminal procedure. Twenty-three of the original 53 counts against Lazarenko were dropped as a result of the defense's first Rule 29 motion, filed before the defense presented its case.

The prosecutors appeared pleased with the outcome, though they refused to comment immediately after the verdict.

The charges against Lazarenko carry a maximum penalty of 20 years, but Lazarenko has already served nearly five years in prison. Because the amount of money connected to the conviction was $44 million and not the original $114 million charged in the indictment, Weinberg predicted that Lazarenko would receive a sentence of eight to 10 years from U.S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins.

Lazarenko is expected to appeal the verdict after he is sentenced. His attorney Weinberg said that the jury was "overwhelmed" by the complexity of the case and that the jurors' verdict still left "serious legal questions" to be decided. Lazarenko's appeal will likely attack the complicated legal structure of the counts of which he was convicted.

While waiting for his appeal, Lazarenko will remain under house arrest in San Francisco unless the judge later decides to return him to custody. The decision largely rests on Lazarenko's status with U.S. immigration officials, who would deport him to Ukraine were it not for the U.S. charges against him. The details of the forfeiture of his assets, including his $12 million mansion in California, will also be determined later.

(Justin Kane is a freelance correspondent covering the Lazarenko trial for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.)

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