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Mon 10 Jun 2019 11:17 AM

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Exclusive video: George Bush's son calls on Kuwait to release jailed expat businesswoman

Neil Bush, the son of American President George H.W. Bush, said the Marsha Lazareva case will have negative ramifications for Kuwait

Exclusive video: George Bush's son calls on Kuwait to release jailed expat businesswoman
Marsha Lazareva, an employee of KGL Investment Company in Kuwait

Neil Bush, the son of former United States President George H.W. Bush, has called for the release of a Russian businesswoman who has been in prison in Kuwait for 470 days, claiming the charges against her are “totally bogus” and could have negative ramifications for the Gulf state’s standing in the international business community.

Marsha Lazareva, an employee of KGL Investment Company in Kuwait, was arrested in November 2017. She was sentenced to ten years hard labour imprisonment in May 2018 and ordered to pay a fine of 22 million Kuwait dinars ($72 million), after being found guilty of charges of embezzlement.

The conviction was successfully appealed on May 5, 2019 when it was discovered the documents used as evidence against her were proven to be forgeries. While the Kuwait Court of Appeal imposed bail of 11 million Kuwait dinars, she has still not been released, having served 470 days in prison up until June 10.

A Russian citizen, who graduated from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2003, she previously held a valid US green card before her imprisonment in Kuwait and is the mother of a four year-old son who is an American citizen and was born in Philadelphia.

Her case has garnered a lot of support from prominent American, British and Russian legal and political leaders.

Bush became involved in the case early on and has made several trips to Kuwait to campaign for Lazareva’s release. Speaking to Arabian Business after the latest hearing in the case on Sunday, he described the charges against her as “totally bogus”.

Bush legacy

His father, former President George H.W. Bush, orchestrated the liberating of Kuwait in February 1991 following the Gulf state’s invasion by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces during the Gulf War.

The 64 year-old Texan businessman said he took up the Lazareva case as he wanted to protect his father's legacy and see Kuwait succeed, but he feared the negative publicity surrounding the case would discourage international investors from engaging with the Gulf state.

“The more I dug into the case the more I realised there's a real injustice that a that a green card holding American who graduated from Wharton School of Business has been separated from her four year-old son for over a year now for charges that were totally bogus, and you could tell from the very beginning that they were bogus,” he told Arabian Business in an exclusive video interview in Kuwait on Sunday.

“And truthfully, you know, part of my dad's legacy, he passed away last year everyone knows, one of his great historical legacies was the fact that he put together, along with an amazing team, a coalition of forces that liberated Kuwait from the evil invasion of Saddam Hussein.

“And so, you know, Kuwait's been on a good path of humanitarian rights, a judicial system that's independent and relatively successful for this region. And as a Bush family member trying to protect my dad's legacy, I want to see Kuwait succeed in this way. And so I've intervened because of the human rights issue, the clear abuse of human rights, the lack of due process, and because I do, I really do, care about Kuwait and I want to see Kuwait succeed.

“For [Marsha Lazareva] to be thrown in jail sends a signal to the rest of the world… Maybe I should think twice about coming to Kuwait, maybe I should think twice about investing in Kuwait, maybe I should think twice and working with Kuwaiti investors if what's going to happen is those funds will be frozen or I'm going to be thrown in jail, which is exactly what's happening.”

Heavyweight political support

Sunday's hearing did not shield any new light on the case and Lazareva remains in jail, despite being awarded bail.

A new hearing has been set for June 23. Lazareva’s case is being tried alongside that of Saeed Dashti, chairman of logistics firm KGL Transportation Company, who was also found guilty of embezzlement as part of the same proceedings.

In addition to Bush, both cases have attracted a lot of heavyweight political supporters around the world, including Cherie Blair, a British human rights attorney and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; Louie Freeh, the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Ed Royce, the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; James Nicholson, the former Ambassador to the Vatican and former Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Pam Bondi, the former Attorney General for the State of Florida; Lord Alex Carlile, a member of the Queen's Counsel in London; Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Tatyana Yumasheva, daughter of Russian President Boris Yeltzin and co-founder of the Yeltzin Center.

Omnia Strategy, the British law firm team representing Lazareva, which includes Cherie Blair, on May 23 filed a petition of complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), requesting an investigation into Lazareva’s detention and imprisonment.

"This is another example of a dangerous trend of criminalising people who are conducting legitimate business activities," Blair was quoted as saying in a press statement.

“The imprisonment of a prominent businesswoman, who is an important example of women's leadership in business in the Middle East, is a great concern."

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