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Former Ukraine PM Will Enlist Tymoshenko Legal Team

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, Moscow in a 1996 photo
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, Moscow in a 1996 photo
The U.S. lawyer for former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko says he will enlist the legal team of imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other Tymoshenko-related witnesses to testify that his client would be in danger if forced to return home.

Daniel Horowitz told RFE/RL that Tymoshenko's team would help convince an immigration judge of the "reign of terror" taking place in Ukraine.

Lazarenko was released on November 1 from a California prison after serving more than eight years on money laundering and other charges.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told RFE/RL in a statement that the ex-prime minister, who does not have a valid U.S. visa or political refugee status, was taken into custody after his release from the Terminal Island detention facility.

"He will be scheduled for a future hearing before an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review who will decide if Mr. Lazarenko has a legal basis to remain in the United States," a statement said.

Lazarenko is wanted in Ukraine on charges including money laundering and embezzlement and for alleged involvement in several high-profile murders, including the 1996 killing of politician Yevhen Shcherban. The government of President Viktor Yanukovych has also alleged that Tymoshenko was behind the killing.

Lazarenko maintains that he is innocent of the charges.

Horowitz said the legal process now facing Lazarenko could take months, but expressed confidence that his client would not be deported.

He also said Lazarenko called his wife, Oksana, upon release from prison to say he was "feeling great."

'Eighth Most-Corrupt Official'

Prime minister from 1996 to 1997 under President Leonid Kuchma, Lazarenko amassed a personal fortune while advising on the privatization of the country's lucrative natural-gas sector.

After falling out of favor with the president and amid a probe of his business dealings, Lazarenko fled to the United States in 1999.

He was found guilty of money laundering through U.S. banks, wire fraud, and extortion in 2004. In the same year, he was ranked by the watchdog group Transparency International as the eighth most-corrupt official in the world.

Several of the charges were later dropped on appeal.

A central charge that was not dropped, however, was that Lazarenko had extorted Ukrainian businessman Peter Kiritchenko of $30 million before the two laundered the proceeds in several international accounts, including in the United States.

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