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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS AMENDED BILL TO COMBAT MONEY LAUNDERING. Leonid Kuchma on 27 December signed a bill aimed at helping to fight money laundering, UNIAN and AP reported on 27 December. The Verkhovna Rada last week passed amendments to a previously approved law to combat dirty money, introducing stricter requirements on identifying account holders and giving government agencies broader rights to monitor suspicious accounts. The parliament's action followed a decision by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force to impose sanctions against Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). Legislators also gave tentative approval to a bill introducing fines and prison terms of up to 15 years for those convicted of money laundering. AM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS TO APPEAL SENTENCES AGAINST RIOTERS. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc in the Ukrainian parliament is collecting signatures for an appeal against a 25 December verdict handed down to members of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO) who were accused of provoking riots during an antipresidential protest in Kyiv in March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 March 2001), UNIAN reported on 27 December. A district court in Kyiv sentenced 14 UNA-UNSO members to prison terms of between two and five years, while four others received two-year suspended sentences. Yuliya Tymoshenko said her caucus demands that a probe be launched into the "brutal behavior of the court," which, she added, made its ruling under an obsolete Criminal Code. AM

UKRAINIAN JUDGE PROTESTS CANCELLATION OF KUCHMA PROBES. Kyiv Court of Appeals judge Yuriy Vasylenko told journalists on 28 December that a Supreme Court ruling canceling his decision to open criminal investigations against President Kuchma violates the constitution and criminal-procedure legislation in the country, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 28 December. "Basically, it was impossible in any way to cancel the probes ordered by me because current legislation does not provide for a legal possibility of their cancellation, and all really qualified and impartial lawyers have come to this conclusion," Vasylenko said. In October, Vasylenko opened a criminal case against Kuchma in connection with charges by opposition lawmakers that he violated 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including his alleged involvement in the illegal sale of military technology to Iraq and the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2002). AM

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN INK PIPELINE AGREEMENT Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, and Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali signed an agreement in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat on 27 December to build a gas pipeline through the three countries, UPI reported the same day. Intended to create a 1,448-kilometer link from the rich Davletabad gas field in southern Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, the $2 billion-$3 billion Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP) will require increased stability in the currently volatile region to become a reality. The Asian Development Bank will take until June to complete a $1 million feasibility study on the TAP, which could bring Pakistan $300 million annually in transit fees and create 12,000 jobs in war-torn Afghanistan, AP reported on 27 December. A 27 December editorial in "Vedomosti" noted that Turkmenistan, currently limited to doing business with Russia and Ukraine, has been desperately seeking alternate outlets and higher-paying customers for its vast reserves of natural gas. DK

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) imposed sanctions on Ukraine on 20 December for failing to take active measures to combat money laundering, "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 December. The Paris-based group, which blacklisted Ukraine in September for its lax policies on dirty money, deemed an anti-money-laundering law passed by Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada in early December insufficient to stave off sanctions. Although FATF leaves the precise nature of sanctions up to its 29 member nations, it recommends that Ukrainian clients and banks be subject to tougher identification requirements and heightened transaction scrutiny. The U.S. government responded immediately to the call for sanctions, using the post-11 September 2001 PATRIOT Act to require U.S. banks to impose strict record-keeping controls on business with clients and banks from Ukraine, "Vedomosti" reported on 23 December. FATF will review Ukraine's status at its 12-14 February meeting in Paris, leaving little time for the passage of new anti-money-laundering legislation, especially in light of an ongoing standoff between President Leonid Kuchma and opposition politicians in parliament. Nadra Bank currency broker Dmitrii Reznichenko suggested a more immediate solution, joking to Interfax-Ukraine on 25 December, "It's time to move assets into gold or Chinese yuans." DK