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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lazarenko Says Faces Torture If U.S. Deports Him to Kiev

SAN FRANCISCO -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko has told a U.S. immigration judge he could be tortured and even killed if he is deported to his homeland to face charges of corruption.

In a statement released to the public Wednesday, Lazarenko said his bid for political asylum was based on the International Convention Against Torture.

"The court has heard evidence that I could be subjected to torture if I am deported to Ukraine," Lazarenko said, noting that international observers and nongovernmental organizations had reported "torture and violence committed by Ukrainian officials causing suffering, bodily injury and, in a number of cases, death."

"I am particularly concerned that my status as a high-profile political opponent to President [Leonid] Kuchma will expose me to intense physical and psychological coercion and that my human rights will be abused," Lazarenko said.

Lazarenko made his plea during a one day hearing at a San Francisco immigration court Monday.

Joe Grillo of Nicolazzo & Associates, the U.S. public relations firm hired to speak for Lazarenko, said it was unclear whether the court would request further hearings or when it might make its decision.

Lazarenko has been held by U.S. immigration authorities since February, when he was detained at New York's Kennedy Airport for visa irregularities.

Ukraine's prime minister from 1996-97, Lazarenko has been charged officially by Ukraine prosecutors with misappropriating state property worth more than $2 million.

He also faces money-laundering charges in Switzerland, where he was arrested last December as he tried to enter on a Panamanian passport. He was subsequently released on bail.

Lazarenko, in a series of statements, has said the accusations against him are part of a campaign by Kuchma to rid the country of a powerful political challenger who hopes to face him in the October presidential elections.

"Those who continue to spread false rumors about me in Ukraine are the same forces that have attempted to discredit me and my political party," Lazarenko said Wednesday. "I will not let these reports go unchallenged, and I remain a candidate for the October elections."