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Lazarenko millions returned to Ukraine

Some of the millions stolen by Lazarenko have now returned to Ukraine.

(Keystone / EPA Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

Switzerland has returned to Ukraine millions of francs confiscated from its former prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko. In June, a Geneva court sentenced him in his absence to 18 months in jail for money laundering.

The money transferred to Ukraine is the SFr10.5 million ($5.9 million) held by Lazarenko in Swiss bank accounts, which was seized by prosecutors after his conviction.

He admitted through his lawyer to having laundered SFr9 million ($5 million) through Switzerland.

Lazarenko, who was Ukrainian prime minister from June 1996 to June 1997, is believed to have embezzled at least SFr1.4 billion from the state while he was in office to constitute a business empire.

His involvement with Swiss justice began when he was arrested entering the country with a Panamanian passport in December 1998. He was released on bail after a judge indicted him on money laundering charges.

In February 1999, Lazarenko ran afoul of the American Immigration and Naturalization Service because of visa irregularities. A wider investigation led to him being indicted in the US on fresh money laundering charges, involving over SFr200 million ($112 million) stolen while he was in office.

The former Prime Minister is now awaiting trial in a San Francisco jail.

Despite the return of some funds to the Ukrainian authorities, it is still believed that Lazarenko has up to SFr300 million ($168 million) in 25 Swiss bank accounts.

Although Switzerland now has some of the toughest laws on money laundering, it has been facing difficulties applying the rules.

This was highlighted by the sudden resignation of the director and deputy-director of the Registration Office for Money Laundering, because of disagreements over their role.

On Thursday, the justice and police ministry said it had found replacements for the two. Judith Voney, a 34 year-old lawyer currently with the criminal police of canton Berne, will take over as head next February.

Her deputy will be Lorenzo Gerber, a 50 year-old lawyer who now works in the management of one of the big banks.

swissinfo with agencies

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