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Wed 22 Jan 2020 09:04 AM

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Russian woman jailed in Kuwait has sentence extended to 22 years, ordered to pay $72m fine

Marsha Lazareva's case has attracted widespread condemnation from an international list of high profile supporters

Russian woman jailed in Kuwait has sentence extended to 22 years, ordered to pay $72m fine

Marsha Lazareva's case has attracted widespread international attention, and high profile support from Cherie Blair CBE, QC of London-based Omnia Strategy LLP, former FBI Director Louis Freeh and Jack Straw, former British Foreign Minister and Home Secretary.

Russian businesswoman Marsha Lazareva has been sentenced to 7 years hard labour in prison in Kuwait and ordered to pay a fine of 22 million Kuwait dinars ($72.4 million), after being convicted of embezzlement, bringing her total jail term to 22 years.

Lazareva was originally arrested in November 2017 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment in May 2018, after being found guilty of charges of embezzlement. She was jailed for over 470 days before being released on a bail of 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.

On Tuesday, her UK-based legal team reported she had been accused of wrongfully billing the Kuwait Port Authority (KPA) for consultancy work she never performed.

The conviction, which took place in late December and which Lazareva was not present, as her legal team had not been informed of the hearing, resulted in her being sentenced to seven years hard labour in jail.

Lazareva and her co-defendant Saeed Dashti were also jointly ordered to repay 11 million Kuwait dinars to the KPA and fined 22 million Kuwait dinars. Dashti faces up to 10 years in prison. Having previously been sentenced to 15 years as part of another case, it brings her total jail time to 22 years.

Her legal team’s defence was that Lazareva had carried out the consultancy work she was accused of not doing and the prosecution’s witness was later found to have forged evidence against her. A previous hearing by the Kuwait civil court had originally found Lazareva innocent of the charges.

International attention

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

Her case has attracted widespread international attention and the latest verdict was harshly criticised by her team of supporters.

Cherie Blair CBE, QC of London-based Omnia Strategy LLP, commented: “Unfortunately, today’s judgment against Marsha and Saeed is not unexpected. What is striking is how flagrantly the Kuwait judicial system has disregarded the rights of the accused and stopped at nothing to achieve a conviction, even in the absence of reliable evidence.

“Tellingly, the judgment has been delivered hurriedly without any opportunity to present a defence and following a secret hearing between Christmas and New Year about which the defence was not informed and therefore could not attend… We are seeing history repeating itself. The judgment lacks credibility and demonstrates that Kuwait’s courts are more concerned with saving face than upholding basic human rights,” she added.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who travelled to Kuwait to give evidence as an expert witness, said: “As a former US federal district court judge and former FBI director, having personally reviewed the evidence and testified in this case, and after watching the government’s lead witness convicted of forging the evidence, I am shocked that a Kuwait Appellate Court today would uphold a conviction against Saeed Dashti and Marsha Lazareva and sentence them to 10 and 7 years respectively, in jail.”

Jack Straw, former British Foreign Minister and Home Secretary, who recently joined the list of supporters in the Lazareva case, said: “The Kuwait Court actions are highly questionable. It is hard to believe that neither she nor her legal representatives were even informed of the hearing. With all the other question marks about the Kuwaiti legal system one would have thought that the Court would have acted differently, at least with more transparency. As a former Justice Minister, I can say that nothing like this can or should happen in decent legal systems.”

In addition to Blair, Freeh and Straw, other high profile supporters of the case have included Neil Bush, son of former US President George H.W. Bush, Ed Royce, the former chairman of the US 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 and Lord Alex Carlile, a member of the Queen's Counsel in London.

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