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UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS TO CHARGE FORMER PREMIER FOR CONTRACTING MURDERS. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod told journalists on 7 February that prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to officially charge former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko with ordering the killings of prominent businessman Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 and former National Bank Chairman Vadym Hetman in 1998, Ukrainian media reported. Obikhod said Lazarenko paid $850,000 to kill Hetman and more than $2 million for the murder of Shcherban. Obikhod added that police have arrested Shcherban's and Hetman's executioners. Obikhod said his office has again asked "the competent U.S. authorities" to extradite Lazarenko. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILLS ON JUDICIAL SYSTEM, ELECTION DEBATES, AND LOCAL ELECTIONS. The Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on 7 February on the judicial system in the country, Interfax reported. The same day, the parliament passed a new version of the bill on television and radio debates during election campaigns, which was vetoed by President Leonid Kuchma last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2002). The former bill obliged all candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections to take part in such debates, while the current bill makes the participation in them voluntary. In addition, the current bill obliges only the state-controlled radio and television channels to organize such debates, while its previous version extended this obligation to private channels as well. The parliament also adopted a new version of the local election bill, which was also vetoed by President Kuchma in January. JM

UKRAINE WANTS TALKS ON HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW. On 7 February, Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and Hungarian President Ferenc Madl visited Zakarpatska Oblast, which is inhabited by a Hungarian ethnic minority. Hungarian Radio reported that Madl and Kinakh spoke about the opportunities of bilateral cooperation and the effects of Hungary's Status Law on Ukrainian Hungarians. Kinakh said the implementation of the Status Law regarding Ukrainian Hungarians must be based on European standards and Ukrainian laws. Kinakh proposed to set up a UkrainianHungarian intergovernmental committee to deal with the issue. Asked by journalists whether Kyiv will ask Budapest to find work in Hungary for Ukrainian citizens of Hungarian origin, Kinakh replied that, given Zakarpatska Oblast's good economic performance in 2001, the government will do everything possible to provide jobs for those people in their native region. JM

EIGHT UKRAINIAN PILOTS DIE IN AIRCRAFT CRASH. A Ukrainian An-12 cargo plane crashed on 7 February in southern Morocco, killing eight pilots on board, Interfax reported, quoting a government official. JM

U.S. EXPERT SAYS MELNYCHENKO'S RECORDINGS ARE AUTHENTIC. RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 7 February aired a live program with the participation of Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary parliamentary commission dealing with the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, whose secret recordings in President Kuchma's office provoked Ukraine's "tape scandal" in 2000. Zhyr said that according to an examination made by prominent U.S. forensic specialist Bruce Koenig of samples of Melnychenko's recordings pertaining to Heorhiy Gongadze, the samples are authentic and do not bear any signs of doctoring or editing. "I regret that such a high-level professional examination [of my recordings] was not made a year ago. Then its consequences for the Ukrainian people would have been much better," Melnychenko commented. JM

LITHUANIA, POLAND TO SHARE INFORMATION ON MONEY LAUNDERING. Chief Commissioner of the Lithuanian Tax Police Department Darius Samuolis and Polish Deputy Finance Minister Jacek Uczkiewicz signed a memorandum in Vilnius on 7 February regulating the exchange of information about the prevention of money laundering, BNS reported. After the signing, Uczkiewicz rejoiced at the new cooperation with Lithuanian institutions in exposing financial crimes. Lithuania has signed similar memoranda on the exchange of information with the financial intelligence agencies of Latvia, Estonia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Croatia, while the Tax Police has cooperation agreements with law enforcement institutions of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. SG