U.S. judge jails Russian U.N. diplomat for 4 years

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Russian diplomat who once chaired a U.N. budget committee was sentenced on Friday to more than four years in prison for helping launder more than $300,000 in bribes and taking a share of the money.

Vladimir Kuznetsov, 50, was found guilty in March of a single count of money laundering in a case that grew out of a criminal investigation into corruption into the now-defunct $64 billion humanitarian oil-for-food program for Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts sentenced Kuznetsov to 51 months in prison and fined him more than $73,000.

Prosecutors said Kuznetsov helped fellow Russian Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. staff member who handled procurement, pocket illegal payments from firms seeking U.N. contracts. Yakovlev pleaded guilty in 2005 to soliciting more than $1 million in bribes and cooperated with authorities.

After the hearing, Kuznetsov told reporters his lawyers would appeal and “there were severe violations in the procedures” during the trial.

“All my life, I have been devoted to the diplomatic service,” said Kuznetsov, after his lawyer argued for leniency because his client was “an admired and respected” diplomat.

Following his conviction, Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized Kuznetsov’s arrest and trial, arguing U.S. prosecutors had pressured witnesses.

He is likely to be deported once he finishes his sentence, which will begin on October 22.