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Former Ukrainian prime minister sentenced to 18 months by Geneva court

Pavlo Lazarenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister Keystone

A court in Geneva has given the former Ukrainian prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko, an 18-month suspended prison sentence. He was found guilty of money laundering in 1998.

After serving two weeks in a Swiss jail, he was freed on a bail of SFr4 million. He later fled to the United States, and is currently being held in prison there on separate charges of misappropriating the equivalent of SFr165 million.

Switzerland last year gave the US legal assistance during the investigation.

The Geneva prosecutors withdrew an earlier request for the extradition of Lazarenko, who was represented in court by his legal team. The former prime minister had argued that extradition to Switzerland would increase the likelihood of his being sent back to Ukraine, where he has been charged with stealing the equivalent of just over SFr3 million and illegally hiding about SFr4 million.

He has claimed he would be unable to get a fair trial in Ukraine, where he was prime minister from 1996 to 1997. He fled to the US at the beginning of 1999 and applied for political asylum after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity and served with an arrest warrant by the Ukrainian authorities.

He has insisted that the investigations against him both in Switzerland and Ukraine are part of plot by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, claiming the president had wanted rid of him as a candidate in the 1999 presidential election.

In addition to the suspended sentence, Lazarenko was ordered to pay canton Geneva compensation of SFr10.6 million, the exchange value of the US$6.6 million laundered which is blocked in Swiss accounts. He was also banned from entering Switzerland for a period of five years.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR