updated 6/3/2004 3:32:47 PM ET 2004-06-03T19:32:47

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko was found guilty Thursday on money laundering, wire fraud and extortion charges related to a series of shady business schemes in his homeland.

Prosecutors said Lazarenko used his political clout to set up an international underground network of bank accounts to launder profits made through the business schemes in Ukraine. The government said $114 million was directed to banks in the United States, mostly in San Francisco.

The government said it decided to try Lazarenko to prevent criminals from using the United States as a safe haven for dirty money. He is the first former head of government to be tried in the United States since Panama’s Manuel Noriega, who was convicted on drug trafficking charges in 1992.

Lazarenko, 51, denied any wrongdoing and claimed his fortune was earned legitimately at a time his country had a new — and lawless — free-market economy.

Lazarenko sought political asylum in the United States in 1999 during his country’s presidential election campaign, claiming that he had faced three assassination attempts. His trial was being closely watched in the former Soviet republic.

Lazarenko was convicted on 29 counts. Defense attorneys have said a conviction could bring him a maximum of five years in prison.

The former prime minister was released last year on $86 million bail and placed under 24-hour surveillance.

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