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13 Oct, 2007 09:02

Moscow unhappy at U.S. prison sentence for ex diplomat

The Foreign Ministry says it's disappointed with the decision of a U.S. district court to jail a former Russian diplomat for money laundering. Moscow says it may demand that Vladimir Kuznetsov is sent home. The former UN official was sentenced to more t

Under the terms of the Convention of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Moscow can ask for the repatriation of Mr Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov was convicted of laundering $US 300,000 from firms seeking UN contracts. He's been on home arrest since March and will remain free until October 22. The 49-year-old denies the charges against him and is preparing an appeal.
“I don't consider myself guilty. We'll file an appeal in 10 days. I'm not going to give up,” said Vladimir Kuznetsov, former Chairman of the powerful UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

Vladimir Kuznetsov was once the highest ranking Russian diplomat at the United Nations. He now faces 51 months behind bars in an American prison.

Prosecutors say Mr Kuznetsov laundered over $US 300,000 in criminal proceeds obtained by another UN worker, Aleksander Yakovlev. The latter is a former Procurement Officer at the UN.

Sentenced at a U.S. district court on Friday, Mr Kuznetsov was ordered to begin serving his jail time on October 22. On his release, he's been ordered to pay a fine of more than $US 73,000.

The Russian Consulate General in New York, Sergey Garmonin, says he will assist Mr Kuznetsov in fighting what he calls a false verdict.

“I think the sentence is unfair. It seemed to us there was a determination to find him guilty. The entire case is built on the testimony of just one witness, while other witnesses were ignored,” Mr Garmonin said.

Mr Yakovlev, the only witness, pleaded guilty in 2005 to soliciting $US 1 million in bribes.  He also admitted wire fraud and money laundering.

Mr Kuznetsov is a career diplomat. He has worked at both the Soviet Union and Russian missions before taking on the higher role at the UN. He's clocked up more than 20 years of international work – a career some Russian officials are trying to save from being tarnished.

Addressing the judge at the U.S. district court in lower Manhattan, Mr Kuznetsov said the United Nations is a part of his life. He said he spent more time at the international organization than he did with his own family. And he said that decision is something he will always regret.