- A Russian businesswoman whose 5-year-old son is a U.S. citizen says she has been wrongly imprisoned in Kuwait since May 2018.
- Marsha Lazareva, a former private equity group chief executive, had an appeal hearing for her 10-year sentence Sunday.
- Her advocates include Neil Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush, who calls her situation “a human rights issue” and said that Lazareva is still being detained despite having posted bail.
Hopes of an Easter miracle for a Christian businesswoman who says she’s been wrongly imprisoned in Kuwait since 2018 were dashed after confusion in the courtroom Sunday, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, told The Daily Caller News Foundation Thursday.
Marsha Lazareva, a Russian national and former chief executive of private equity group KGL Investment (KGLI), was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars from Kuwait government investors in a Kuwaiti court May 6. Lazareva was present for her appeal hearing, but she was taken back to prison for unknown reasons, according Freeh, one of her U.S.-based advocates. Freeh said he was unable to present evidence he believes could free the mother of a young son, who was born in Pennsylvania and has U.S. citizenship.
“It’s a criminal case, but it’s also become a humanitarian case,” Freeh said. “This is probably one of the most, if not the most, prominent female business executives in the Mideast just completely run roughshod over in terms of her basic rights.”
Freeh said he plans to travel back to Kuwait in hopes of another appeal hearing on April 28 after the judge called an unexpected recess. The judge appeared to be recusing himself from the case, leaving Freeh and the rest of Lazareva’s team confused for more than two hours as she was taken back to prison.
New evidence Freeh had hoped to highlight included that two witnesses who testified against her have since recanted, he said. There’s also a “very, very significant” ruling recently handed down by a Kuwaiti civil court stating that Lazareva’s group KGL Investment was owed money, not the other way around, based on the contract that the allegations against her stem from, Freeh said.
Lazareva has denied embezzling any of the $496 million that Kuwaiti authorities thought were misappropriated but were actually frozen while passing through a bank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The money had been invested in The Port Fund, a private equity group, by investors including Kuwaiti government entities, reported Forbes.
The money was released in February, but Lazareva is still in prison. So is Saeed Dashti, who was caught up in the same embezzlement accusations, Freeh said. Dashti was an executive at a separate company, Kuwait & Gulf Link Transportation Company (KGL), at the time.
Lazareva put up $33 million in joint bail with Dashti, something that Freeh, a former judge, said continues to shock him. Lazareva’s lawyers have repeatedly said that her success generated enemies who are behind the allegedly false charges.
“I’ve been around a long time. I’ve never heard of a $33 million cash bail,” Free told TheDCNF earlier in April, adding that he had asked Kuwaiti officials to let Lazareva out on bail so she can see her young son. He thinks she is on a very long business trip and has to communicate with her through phone calls.
A Team Of Heavyweights
Lazareva is being represented both stateside and in Kuwait by a heavyweight team including former GOP California Rep. Ed Royce, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Clinton appointee Freeh and Neil Bush, who told TheDCNF that Lazareva’s imprisonment could have bigger implications during a phone interview earlier in April.
“My dad, who organized the coalition to liberate Kuwait, was proud till his last day that Kuwait was an honorable, respected member of a group of civilized nations,” Bush said of his father, the late president George H.W. Bush. “The last thing we want is for Kuwait to have a blemish on their otherwise good standing. … The company that’s being harassed, to put it mildly, has provided great service to the U.S. Defense Department over many years.”
Bush is a representative of KGLI-linked The Port Fund.
Singled Out For Being A Woman?
Lazareva’s identity as a non-Kuwaiti woman may not win her favor with the judge.
“I spoke a few words briefly to Marsha. She was very distraught,” he said. “She went up to the bench for the colloquoy between her lawyer and the judge. The guards told her to stop talking to both the translator and the lawyer, and she was very very upset by that. She raised that herself with the judge, so whether that had some adverse impact on the judge, I don’t know.”
Lazareva has complained about discrimination against her because of gender or race before.
“The judge made many racist comments toward me during the case and singled me out as a woman,” she told Andrew Cave of Forbes in May 2018, during her only interview since her conviction.
Freeh plans to share the new evidence at the next hearing and stressed the urgent need to get Lazareva out.
“There’s an enormous amount of concern, not just for the fairness of the proceeding, but we’re very concerned about the defendants’ health, particularly Marsha,” Freeh said. “She’s deteriorating both physically and mentally in this condition, and there’s no reason for it.”
A State Department spokesperson told TheDCNF earlier in April that the department is aware of Lazareva’s case.
TheDCNF reached out to the Embassy of Kuwait but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
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