NGOs, Leaders 'Across Political Divide' Back Marsha Lazareva as Kuwait Subject to Review – Barrister

CEO and Chairman of KGL Investment, Marsha Lazareva, has seen a positive turn of events after two NGOs, ‘No Peace Without Justice’ and the International Association for Democratic Laywers, filed submissions to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as part of Kuwait’s Universal Periodic Review.

The two NGOs expressed concern about ongoing prosecutions and due process violations in respect to Ms Lazareva, marking the first NGO engagement on her case at the UN and demonstrated the growing international concerns voiced about the defendant’s unjust treatment.

The Russian national’s case has seen numerous violations of her right to due process, with members of the global community increasingly voicing concerns regarding Kuwait’s adherence to the international rule of law, as well as climate for foreign investors conducting business in the Persian Gulf country.

The Wharton School graduate relocated to Kuwait on business and was detained in November 2017 on charges of embezzling funds connected to her company’s prosperous investment fund. But shortly after being released on $30m bail in February last year, she was reconvicted in May 2018 and sentenced to 10 years hard labour at Sulaibiya prison, where she served a year before having her conviction nullified by the Kuwaiti Court of Appeal on 5 May this year.

Her conviction was overturned following news that evidence used to convict her had been forged by a Kuwaiti official, who has since fled the country to avoid facing prosecution. But following her release in early June, Ms Lazareva still faces a further trial on 5 August, where her defence team will have the Kuwaiti attorney general state on record that funds from the Port Fund, totalling $496m, were returned in full to investors and were not stolen or embezzled, exonerating the defendant.

Jennifer Robinson, a member of Marsha Lazareva’s defence team at Omnia Strategies, explained the updates surrounding Ms Lazareva’s case. Ms Robinson is an Australian human rights lawyer and barrister for Doughty Street Chambers in London, and also represents Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a longstanding member of the whilstleblower’s defence team.

SPUTNIK: Two NGOs have submitted their input to the UN Universal Periodic Review regarding Kuwait's human rights record. What specific feedback did they leave and what does their involvement say about growing concerns from the international community surrounding Ms Lazareva's case?

Jennifer Robinson: I think it’s very important to have two international, UN-accredited NGOs raise Ms Lazareva’s case in the context of Kuwait’s Universal Periodic Review, which is, of course, an opportunity for Kuwait to be subjected to a review from the entire international community as a member of the United Nations on its human rights record. The fact that Ms Lazareva’s case forms part of that review, and that NGOs are appraising this is indicative of the seriousness to which the global community considers human rights concerns in her case.

So, this will be the subject of Kuwait's UPR, which will be a cause of concern for them as they will be subjected to questioning about it, because there are serious human rights violations in her case, including due process, fair trial rights violations, and arbitrary detention concerns. As she has been treated unfairly, it’s right and proper that her case is raised as part of Kuwait’s UPR at the United Nations.

SPUTNIK: Following these submissions, what do you believe is the next step in vindicating Ms Lazareva? What kind of pressure would be necessary to place on Kuwait and wholly exonerate the defendant?

Jennifer Robinson: She has an upcoming hearing in Kuwait on 15th September, and from our point of view as her legal team, the evidence to acquit her is clear.

There’s clear evidence demonstrated by experts from our council in Kuwait, which has been prepared and provided to Kuwaiti courts, showing that there was absolutely nothing to incriminate Ms Lazareva. This includes Mr Daniel Gill, a certified public accountant with 36 years of investigation and forensic accounting experience.

It’s important for the international community to take this seriously in the context of Kuwait’s overall reputation in terms of how far investors will consider working in the Gulf country.

Ms Lazareva is an incredibly important figure in the business community. She’s a female leader in business in the Middle East, and it greatly concerns us and the foreign investment community that she is being treated this way, with her legitimate business activities being criminalised without any evidence whatsoever. I also think such cases ought to be reported as this growing trend in criminalising legitimate business activities increases, and she ought to be supported.

SPUTNIK: Members of the Omnia Strategies defence team hosted a high-profile discussion panel on 25 June in Geneva, which coincided with the 41st session with the UN Human Rights Council. What conclusions did the discussion group arrive at, and what feedback did Omnia receive from attendees?

Jennifer Robinson: This high-profile panel discussion was hosted by Mrs Cherie Blair QC, who is a renowned international human rights lawyer, to coincide with the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. Its purpose was to highlight the increasing trend of business executives being arbitrarily detained and criminalised for conducting legitimate business activities. We had attendees from the diplomatic community, the private sector and civil society hear about the injustices in Ms Lazareva’s case, which was a really exciting opportunity.

The discussions also featured panel members such as former President Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN-WGAD), Mads Andenæs QC, who has been dealing with cases like this around the world. We also had former French human rights ambassador, François Zimeray, who represents former Nissan-Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn in Japan—one of the most high-profile cases involving a businessperson being arbitrarily detained for conducting business.

BBC News World Affairs editor, John Simpson, one of the BBC’s most prominent and influential journalists who has followed foreign policy issues for many years, also commented that the case against Ms Lazareva was appalling and absolutely outrageous.

Mrs Blair also questioned Kuwait’s respect for the international rule of law, particularly in the context of its UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency and what signal that sends to the rest of the world. I think, very importantly, global government affairs expert Randa Fahmy, spoke very powerfully about the possibilities for the US Magnitsky Act and potential imposition of sanctions in respect to Kuwait due to its treatment of Ms Lazareva and Saeed Dashti.

Indeed, US president Donald Trump has been briefed about this case, as has US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has also been actively engaged in Ms Lazareva’s case as well, and I believe that this shows the internationalisation of this case and the level of political support for Ms Lazareva, as well as why this will continue to be a sticking point for Kuwait at the United Nations.

SPUTNIK: As member of Ms Lazareva's defence team, what are some of the leading qualities of those involved in the case and, generally speaking, what are their best contributions to the case as a unit?

Jennifer Robinson: This case is a remarkable example of international cooperation across the political divide on the question of the rule of law. Mrs Blair has shown fantastic leadership at Omnia Strategies as the international lead on Ms Lazareva’s case, evidenced by the international impact we have had.

But in a broader context beyond Mrs Blair’s leadership, the level of international solidarity for Ms Lazareva’s situation has been massive. There has been support from across the political spectrum, from first Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Borisovna Yumasheva, to Cherie Blair in the UK and Neil Bush in the US, the son of George HW and Barbara Bush, and it’s interesting to see such a unique combination of people involved in a specific rule of law issue.

I think that under Mrs Blair’s leadership and strategic engagement with the United Nations, we will hopefully see more positive outcomes for Marsha Lazareva in the future.

SPUTNIK: Can you explain to us some of the parallels between Ms Lazareva’s case and that of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? Which international standards should be upheld in both of their cases?

Jennifer Robinson: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention plays an incredibly important role in setting international standards, which states are obliged to abide by through their international treaty commitments.

Like Julian Assange, Marsha Lazareva's case is an impossible situation that ought to be remedied by the international community. All states must abide by these standards, and it’s important that Kuwait, particularly in its role as the president of the UN Security Council, respects the international rule of law and the rulings of UN-WGAD.

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