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Pavel Lazarenko

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Updated: 25.09.2003

Former Prime Minister of Ukraine. Called by many Ukrainian gas king, now he on trial in federal court in San Francisco, charged with laundering US$114 million of his nation's money within a period of 1994-1999 and using it to buy, among other things, a Marin County mansion once occupied by actor Eddie Murphy. Besides, law-enforcement agencies of Ukraine, USA and Switzerland have proved Mr Lazarenko was guilty of state funds misappropriation and illegal outflow of capital. In Geneva the Ukrainian ex-PM was sentenced to 1,5 years of imprisonment and to 10,6 million Swiss francs of fine.

Like many other tycoons and President Kuchma himself, Lazarenko comes from the ranks of former Communist Party bosses in Ukraine's industrialised east. He accrued his wealth off the trading of oil and gas contracts in Ukraine while pocketing millions meant to be invested in the country's ailing energy sector.

Beginning in 1990 after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Lazarenko owned numerous commercial enterprises in complete compliance and within the laws existing in Ukraine. Mr Kuchma knew about Lazarenko's successful commercial enterprises when he appointed Lazarenko to be the First Vice Prime Minister in 1995, and promoted him to Prime Minister in 1996.

Mr Kuchma and Pavel Lazarenko, leader of Social Democratic party, were close friends, political and business partners until Mr. Lazarenko decided to run for presidency. At that point they became bitter rivals.

Pavel Lazarenko had been arrested in the United States in February 1999. During the hearings he has been continuosly pleading not guilty to one count of conspiracy, seven counts of money laundering and 23 counts of transportation of stolen property. The ex-Prime Minister claims that the accusations are politically-motivated, and are inspired by his enemies in Ukraine, including the President, Leonid Kuchma.

In July, 2003, judges of the California circuit court have postponed a hearing in the case against Mr Lazarenko from August 18 to October 14. This decision was caused by the inability of a team of US prosecutors and lawyers to finish by that time the questioning in Kiev of all witnesses.

In another development, one of the likely witnesses in Lazarenko's case was killed in a car accident in Ukraine on July 14, 2003. His name was Vladimir Yefremov, a representative of the Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Dnepropetrovsk region.

In 1990-1996 he was the chief editor of the Dnepropetrovsk regional newspaper, "Sobor". He enjoyed financial backing by Pavel Lazarenko. With the help of his patron Yefremov founded the "11" television channel which used to praise Lazarenko's deeds.

Following a long legal battle, the television channel was overtaken in 2000 by Lazarenko' rivals, with president Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, among them. Yefremov's friends believe the car crash could have been plotted by certain "influential persons".

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