British barrister says she hopes the Marsha Lazareva case is a one-off, investors can remain confident in the Gulf state
Top British barrister Cherie Blair has said the jailing of a prominent Russian businessman in Kuwait has “shaken” her faith in the Gulf state’s judicial system but she hopes that the case is a one-off “aberration” and foreign investors can “remain confident” about doing business there.
Blair said the state is in danger of "damaging its reputation" by failing to clear the name of former KGL Investment company employee Marsha Lazareva.
Lazareva was arrested in November 2017 and she sentenced to ten years hard labour imprisonment in May 2018, after being found guilty of charges of embezzlement. She was jailed for over 470 days and finally released on a bail 12 million dinars ($39.42 million) on June 13, following a high profile campaign that disputes the evidence.
The conviction was successfully appealed on May 5 when it was discovered the documents used as evidence against her were proven to be forgeries and the funds of nearly half a billion dollars she was accused of embezzling were actually frozen in a Dubai bank.
Blair told Arabian Business in a video interview: “The real question for me is, is this just an aberration, is this just a case that’s just gone wrong, or does it say something more generally about the dangers of foreigners doing business in Kuwait?
“I personally very much hope that it is an aberration and that foreigners can remain confident about Kuwait… but it is true that my faith has been somewhat shaken by what has happened to Marsha – even the little things that happened in the prison and sadly in the court where Marsha was referred to as ‘The Russian Woman’ – it’s disturbing.”
Speaking at an event in Geneva, Switzerland, that discussed the risks of arbitrary detention when conducting business abroad, Blair alluded in detail to the cases of Lazareva and her Kuwaiti colleague Saeed Dashti, who has also been detained on spurious charges of embezzlement.
Blair said: “I do think that the reputation of Kuwait is being damaged by this and particularly at a time when Kuwait, like everybody else, is wanting to encourage direct investment. This story is not helping the idea that Kuwait is a safe place to do business.”
The publicity furore surrounding the KGL case ‘coincides’ with Kuwait being president of the United Nations Security Council this month, Blair said.
“So again there is an issue about [Kuwait] taking that presidency and then being found not to be upholding the high principles that the UN hold dear in relation to human rights, fair trial, and non-arbitrary justice,” she said.
“The best outcome would be if the case was actually dropped, to my mind, no reasonable prosecutor faced with what they now know [would continue to detain them], “ she said.
Mrs Blair – who is the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair – has been leading a high profile campaign about the case, along with a coterie of high powered lawyers from the UK and the US.
Also speaking the event was US lawyer Randa Fahmy, who says she has "personally briefed" the details of the case to US president Donald Trump. “He was very engaged, put it that way,” she said.
According to Fahmy, the US has ‘four tools in its box’ to push for the release of Lazareva, who is a lapsed Green Card holder and mother to a four-year-old US-citizen son.
“With respect to arbitrary detention, the first tool we have is diplomatic discussions –we are always game for that, where the US has bilateral and private discussions with the government of Kuwait regarding this particular case.
“The second tool in our tool-box is sanctions… we have something called the Global Magnitsky Act which was passed by Congress in 2016, which would implement sanctions against certain individuals that are implement human rights abuses or are responsible for corruption. The GMI would restrict visas and halt any kind of transaction going on in US dollars whether that’s presently in the bank or in an exchange,” she said.
Fahmy said the US could also enact a extradition treaty, or even use extradition by force in ‘certain circumstances’.
She added: "The best case scenario is for Kuwait to look at all the other evidence against both of them and find that there is no evidence to present these charges of corruption.
“It would be in the best interest of Kuwait for both their international relations and their ability to do business abroad to close this case in a respectful manner by utilising their justice system to say charges are dropped.”