ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Thursday September 15, 2016 – US$66.7 million that had been frozen in a bank account of a corrupt former prime minister of Ukraine is now the property of the Antigua and Barbuda government.
The large sum in the account of Pavlo Lazarenko at the long liquidated European Federal Credit Bank of Antigua (Eurofed) has been forfeited to the twin-island nation.
The funds had previously been frozen by the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) in Antigua, on the grounds that it had been obtained through acts of corruption committed by Lazarenko during his political life in the Ukraine. The twin-island nation was one of several where Lazarenko had stashed money, the others being Guernsey, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Lithuania.
In a statement issued yesterday, the ONDCP said it received a High Court order to transfer the money to government’s Forfeiture Fund.
“It’s up to the government to determine how they want to treat the monies that were received,” Director of ONDCP, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Croft told The Daily Observer in Antigua.
Lazarenko, named by Transparency International as one of the world’s 10 most corrupt officials, was accused in the Ukraine of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars for his personal use, convicted of money laundering in the United States and, in absentia, in Switzerland. His name also 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, according to the New York Times.
Following Lazarenko’s conviction in the US on eight counts of money laundering, the ONDCP, represented by attorneys Anthony Armstrong who is also the Director of Public Prosecutions and Curtis Bird, argued that the former politician had no credible explanation for how he was able to generate the US$66.7 million that was in the Eurofed account.
The lawyers pointed out to the court that in becoming Prime Minister, Lazarenko had declared to the Ukrainian Parliament that his total assets were valued at only US$55,000.
Lazarenko, represented by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Dr. Richard Cheltenham, Antiguan attorneys Colin Derrick and Shelley Sitherall and US attorney Jed Silversmith, had asserted that the ONDCP had not proved that the money had come from illegal sources or that it was connected to the money laundering offences for which Lazarenko had been convicted.
Armstrong countered that the Money Laundering (Prevention) Act did not require the ONDCP to prove the connection, but instead placed a burden on a person seeking to unfreeze funds to establish the legitimacy of their origins and that the money was not part of any money laundering scheme within or outside of Antigua and Barbuda.
Lazarenko failed to do so, but the ONDCP was also able to file evidence showing that he had admitted to a District Court in the United States that the money in Eurofed Bank was connected to the counts on which he had been convicted in the US, and was therefore the proceeds of crime.