Former prime minister seeks freedom under newly signed Anti-Terrorism Act

By David Kravets The Associated Press
Sunday October 28, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Hours after President Bush signed an anti-terrorism bill granting police unprecedented powers Friday, a former Ukrainian prime minister on trial here argued the new legislation proves he did not commit a crime on U.S. soil. 

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko is on trial for allegedly laundering millions of dollars in the United States with money obtained by extorting or bribing Ukrainian businesses, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed in July. 

In a court hearing Friday, Lazarenko’s attorneys urged a federal judge to dismiss the case. 

They argued that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 broadens money-laundering crimes that were not expressly outlawed when Lazarenko was accused.  

That means he cannot be prosecuted because it was not a crime before Friday’s law was created, said Lazarenko’s attorney Dennis P. Riordan. 

Senate amendments to the bill for the first time include acts “for money laundering, the very conduct by a foreign official with which Lazarenko is charged in the pending indictment,” Riordan argued. 

Wearing brown jail smocks, Lazarenko sat quietly and listened to the two-hour proceedings translated through a Russian-language interpreter. 

Riordan argued that prior to the new law, money laundering was only a crime for foreign public officials in the United States if the money was obtained through extortion or drug deals — not bribery. 

The package Bush signed Friday changed that to also criminalize money obtained through bribery. 

Federal prosecutors said Lazarenko can still be prosecuted under the old law because he extorted millions from Ukrainian businesses. Extortion, the government maintained Friday, is the same as bribery. 

“For this case, Congress didn’t need to make the amendment,” argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Martha Boersch. 

But Lazarenko’s attorneys said the U.S. Supreme Court has outlined extortion as a “violent or terrorist act” for which Lazarenko is not accused. Some charges allege Lazarenko took money from businesses, which in return received government favors. 

U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins said he would rule on the dispute before Nov. 20. 

Lazarenko is a political centrist who fled his country for the United States in February 1999. He was named prime minister in 1996 by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, serving 13 months before losing a power struggle. 

He fled to the United States after the Ukrainian government accused him of stealing about $2 million. Lazarenko has maintained the accusations were part of an attempt by his enemies, including Kuchma, to silence political opposition. 

The U.S. government has accused Lazarenko of conspiring to transfer about $200 million in ill-gotten funds to U.S. bank and brokerage accounts to conceal their origin. 

Officials want forfeiture of Lazarenko’s 41-room home in Novato, north of San Francisco, and the laundered money. 

In February, meanwhile, Ukrainian prosecutors instituted a criminal case against opposition leader and former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko, who was dismissed by Kuchma in mid-January after prosecutors accused her of wide-scale corruption. She is charged with paying millions of dollars in bribes to Lazarenko. 

The case argued Friday is United States v. Lazarenko, CR-000284.