: New York Times: A Ukrainian kleptocrat wants his money and U.S. asylum

14:46 Jul. 7, 2016

New York Times: A Ukrainian kleptocrat wants his money and U.S. asylum

avlo Lazarenko, left, the former prime minister of Ukraine, leaves a San Francisco federal courthouse with his son, Olexander Lazarenko, right, during a break in closing arguments Wednesday, May 26, 2004. (AP Images)

The fight over Mr. Lazarenko's offshore assets is heating up

On any given day, Pavlo Lazarenko looks like an ordinary stay-at-home dad, shuttling his three small children to school and waiting for his young wife to return home from work. Perhaps he'll run an errand or two.

Read also Vice News: Corruption in Ukraine - Drifting offshore

But Mr. Lazarenko, it turns out, is a world-class kleptocrat hiding in plain sight in suburban America. He is the former prime minister of Ukraine, where he was accused of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars for his personal use. Transparency International named him one of the world's 10 most corrupt officials.

He is wanted in his native Ukraine. He has been convicted of money laundering in the United States and, in absentia, in Switzerland. Moreover, his name recently surfaced in the leaked secret documents known as the Panama Papers in a long-running corruption case involving the alleged theft of Ukraine's natural gas resources for himself and his political allies.

Even more, Mr. Lazarenko is waging two fierce battles with the United States government. One is over USD 250 million in offshore accounts in Guernsey, Switzerland, and elsewhere that the government claims are the fruits of Mr. Lazarenko's "fraud, extortion, bribery, misappropriation and embezzlement." The other is his effort to remain in the United States, where he has been seeking political asylum since arriving in 1999.

So far, Mr. Lazarenko is more than holding his own. With an army of lawyers, he has been able to stave off deportation, even though he served time in federal prison on a felony money-laundering conviction a few years ago. The battle over returning his riches to Ukraine has been tied up in courts for years, and will be for years to come.

He is in legal limbo — not a citizen, not a visa holder — and yet he is able to operate freely from his California home. What the Lazarenko case demonstrates is just how difficult it is for the United States government to go after what it says are the ill-gotten gains of those with outsize power and influence.

Read also #PanamaPapers: Ukraine's President addresses offshore scandal

"This shows you who outguns whom in the battle against corruption," said Kenneth Hurwitz, an anticorruption officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. "He's got the resources, and a lot of money is at stake."

In response to questions, Mr. Lazarenko's attorney, Daniel Horowitz, declined to comment or make Mr. Lazarenko available.

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