Judge Curbs Ex-Ukrainian PM’s Discovery Bid

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal magistrate slammed a corrupt former Ukrainian prime minister for his “fishing expedition” during discovery in a $250 million asset-forfeiture case.
     The United States has been seeking funds scattered throughout banks across the globe since a federal jury convicted Pavel Ivanovich Lazarenko in California of a international money-laundering scheme.
     Lazarenko was prime minister of Ukraine from 1996 to 1997. The United States says he pocketed more than $300 million from kickbacks, multimillion-dollar natural gas import contracts and other deals from 1992 to 1998.
     In nearly a decade of forfeiture litigation, the government has successfully fought off seven would-be intervenors and survived a motion to dismiss.
     Lazarenko balked two years ago, however, when the government directed him to produce tax records and other financial documents dating back to 1992.
     He requested copies of all records obtained through requests that the government sent to countries in the asset hunt under the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT).
     Though the federal government did produce the records it obtained, it refused to produce copies of the requests themselves.
     Lazarenko served the government with a similar request in January 2016, and he demanded records on his unsuccessful attempts at a plea agreement in 2002
     U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey granted the government a protective order as to Lazarenko’s discovery requests on July 29.
     Finding the intergovernmental communications irrelevant to the case, Harvey noted that “no claim or defense has been asserted that touches on those records.”
     “Plaintiff raises several challenges to the potential relevance of the documents and the arguments claimant will try to make using them,” the partially redacted, 18-page ruling states. “Only one of those arguments is necessary for the court to dispose of this dispute: the government believes that any specific performance or unclean hands defense has been waived in this proceeding because claimant has not asserted or attempted to assert it.”
     Harvey said Lazarenko “cannot lead a fishing expedition to find material that might possibly become relevant to an as-yet unleaded specific performance or unclean hands defense.”
     As for Lazarenko’s discovery request for MLAT requests to Guernsey and Antigua, Harvey said the parties must first engage in a meet-and-confer process.
     Harvey noted that Lazarenko ducked a 2015 court order of a meet and confer, which held the possibility of resolving the issue through stipulation rather than production.
     “Absent compliance with its prior order and a demonstration that good-faith meet-and-confer efforts have been unsuccessful in resolving these issues, the court sees no excuse for further judicial intervention at this time,” Harvey wrote.
     Lazarenko won reversal of a $19 million restitution award he was ordered to pay to his co-conspirator, Peter Kiritchenko, in 2010.
     The U.S. government in 2011 forfeited its right to nearly $2.5 million in Lazarenko-related assets – held in two accounts at Bank of America in San Francisco.
     U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman approved a 2014 settlement for more than $2 million in assets held at Bank Julius Baer & Company, and called Lazarenko’s objections “nonsensical.”
     The ousted politician claimed that dismissal of the forfeiture action, specifically a portion of the Lithuanian funds, would deprive him of the opportunity to assert a statute of limitations defense.
     Judge Harvey limited the government’s discovery efforts last year.

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