Shortly after this story was published in October 2004, the dioxin-scarred reformer Viktor Yuschenko rode a wave of popular support to triumph. Pavel Lazarenko watched the Orange Revolution unfold on satellite television from his undisclosed Bay Area apartment where, under house arrest, he still awaits sentencing.
The Western media portrayed the bloodless revolution as the victory of democracy over the thuggish post-Soviet regime of Leonid Kuchma and his lackey Viktor Yanukovych. But there are no angels in Ukraine. Yuschenko's first act as president was to appoint a former Lazarenko crony, Yulia Tymoshenko, as his prime minister.
In the months after the first, fraudulent election, Tymoshenko's movie-star looks and firebrand speeches in Kiev's Independence Square had made her a hero of the Orange Revolution. Yet only nine months earlier, Lazarenko's U.S. prosecutors had cast her as Ukraine's Kenneth Lay. They argued that she had paid Lazarenko an $86 million bribe in exchange for state natural-gas concessions. The deal had made Tymoshenko at least $400 million, with estimates running into the billions, and earned her the moniker hazova princessa, "The Gas Princess."
The U.S. charges connected to the bribe were dismissed because no harm to the Ukrainian state could be proved, but there is no denying the two were close partners. During Lazarenko's war with Kuchma, Tymoshenko's capital helped fund Lazarenko's opposition party. When Lazarenko fled Ukraine, she faced the wrath of Kuchma, who opened a corruption probe into her business activities. Allegations of bribery, money laundering, corruption, and abuse of power briefly landed her in jail, though formal charges were never filed. As recently as 2003, Russian officials issued international arrest warrants for her, accusing her of bribing Russian defense ministry officials in the mid-1990s.
Like Lazarenko, Tymoshenko has dismissed the allegations as political moves by a rival bent on her destruction. But even Yuschenko, who first hired her five years ago to help fight corruption in the energy industry, admitted then, "You need a crook to catch a crook."
Today, she is almost equally beloved and despised by Ukrainians, 44 percent of whom backed Yanukovych. To supporters, she is Ukraine's Joan of Arc; to critics, she is the devil in Dolce & Gab-bana. Her appointment suggests that, despite the revolution, dismantling Ukraine's entrenched oligarchy-particularly one created by state-sanctioned corruption-will take more than merely dethroning Kuchma.
For Lazarenko, however, Tymoshenko's appointment to the office he once held may be his salvation. As this book went to press, his defense team had submitted a motion for a new trial, arguing that key documents and witnesses suppressed by Kuchma's government during the trial may now be available.
They may be right. In her new role, Tymoshenko will oversee the Ukrainian investigators that once hounded her and Lazarenko. Ukraine's general prosecutor, who provided much of the evidence against Lazarenko, recently said he embraces the arrival of the Orange Revolution and closed an investigation into Tymoshenko days after she was named prime minister.
Lazarenko's attorneys believe that if their client is given a new trial, he almost certainly would go free, aided by the glowing publicity of Ukraine's electoral saga. Instead of the cast of ex-communists who filled the witness box, jurors would see Lazarenko's old allies in a new light, fresh from the victorious battle for democracy.
That may be optimistic, but the story of Pavel Lazarenko isn't over yet.