Former Ukraine leader's prison sentence reduced

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 6:02 PM

A federal judge on Wednesday reduced the prison sentence for a former Ukrainian prime minister convicted in the United States of corruption in his homeland.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer cut Pavlo Lazarenko's nine-year sentence by 11 months. The resentencing came after an appeals court last year tossed out six of the 14 extortion, corruption and other charges that he was convicted of in 2004.

Through a Russian translator, the 56-year-old Lazarenko spoke publicly about the case for the first time and pleaded for a significantly reduced sentence.

"I have in every way that I could have punished myself, I have punished myself," said Lazarenko, who also told the judge he had six children. "After my release, I will go to Ukraine and work hard and honestly in order to clear my name."

Breyer acknowledged that the sentence should be adjusted because of the dismissed charges, but ruled that Lazarenko's public corruption convictions were too severe to warrant leniency.

"The seriousness of this offense cannot be overstated," he said. "The message must go forward that the United States will not become a safe haven for funds that were obtained with an illicit purpose."

Lazarenko served as Ukraine's prime minister from 1996 to 1997, then fled to the United States and applied for political asylum in 1999.

The U.S. government instead arrested him and charged him with corruption, extortion and a host of other charges alleging Lazarenko used his position to illegally enrich himself. Federal prosecutors claimed jurisdiction over Lazarenko because much of the millions of dollars at issue ended up in the United States.

Government lawyers denied that a desire to replace Lazarenko with a more Western-friendly prime minister played any role in a case they argued was necessary to show the United States took seriously money laundering issues.

A jury convicted Lazarenko in 2004, and he was sentenced in 2006 to nine years in prison. However, he was allowed to remain under house arrest until he exhausted his appeals, which occurred last year when the U.S. Supreme Court denied to review the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding eight of the 14 charges.

Breyer scheduled another hearing to determine if Lazarenko should have to pay restitution.