The Fate of Marsha Lazareva, a Wharton Business School Graduate, CEO of an investment firm, and a mother currently languishing behind bars in a remote Kuwaiti prison may well depend on what happens at a hearing this Sunday.
Lazareva, a Christian, is serving a 10-year sentence of hard labor for allegedly misappropriating funds, a charge her U.S. attorneys insist is groundless. She shares her prison with six other women, and her health is said to be failing.
Her 5-year-old son, who was born in Pennsylvania, has been told that her mother is on a very long business trip. She has been imprisoned for about a year.
Global investors are keeping a wary eye on the case, given what it could portend regarding the rule of law in Kuwait, and the advisability of investing there. At the time of her arrest, Lazareva was the only non-Kuwaiti woman managing an investment firm in the entire country.
Lazareva’s representatives are careful to emphasize that Kuwaiti monarch and Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah has a good reputation in the West as a responsible leader. But they worry he may be unaware of the injustices and improper influence in some elements of the Kuwaiti justice system.
Over Easter weekend, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi journeyed to Kuwait to meet Lazareva and assist with her case, even meeting with her at Sulaibiya Central Prison.
Speaking to Newsmax in an exclusive interview following her return, Bondi says, “We had a retired forensic FBI analyst look at the evidence. Marsha did nothing wrong other than be a successful female in the Middle East. The competitor wants to put her out of business, and the way to do that is by creating a crime that is not there.”
Lazareva has posted a mind-boggling bail of over $30 million, yet remains in jail. Her attorneys are hoping the evidence they present on Sunday will at least persuade the Kuwaiti judges hearing the case to let her leave the jail under house arrest.
Her dream-team of U.S. representatives and supporters includes Bondi, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, Neil Bush, the son of the late President George H.W. Bush, Former U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and attorney David Hammond of Crowell & Moring.
In a recent exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush, explained his role in Lavareza's case in the context of his family's historic ties to Kuwait, which U.S. troops liberated from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War.
Bush said his father "to his last day" was proud that Kuwait "remained an honorable and respected member of the international community."
Bush added: "I, as a member of this family, would hate to see a blemish on Kuwait's record. I'd hate to see our U.S.-Kuwaiti relations damaged by this incident."
According to Bush, however, there are forces within the government that are creating this horrible situation."
Last Sunday, Bondi, Royce, and Freeh encountered those forces when he and Hammond traveled to Kuwait to help represent Lazareva at a hearing. Bondi tells Newsmax that during the hearing of an appeal of Lazareva's conviction and 10-year prison sentence, that over a dozen very high-ranking police officials crowded into the courtroom in what she believes was an attempt to intimidate the judge.
Lazareva was surrounded by six armed guards, and her translator initially was forbidden to explain what was transpiring.
"We had Louis Freeh there, we had a retired FBI analyst there prepared to testify," says Bondi. "So what did they do? They stopped the hearing."
According to Bondi, once the four-judge panel realized that the FBI experts were prepared to testify that the documents used in Lazareva's initial conviction were obvious forgeries, and that as the nearly $500 million that had been frozen for fear it would be embezzled had since been released, the conviction was groundless.
The chief judge immediately halted the proceedings and cleared the courtroom. After several hours, the defense team learned the hearing had been cancelled -- perhaps, some speculated, in the hope that witnesses who had traveled thousands of miles to testify would go back home and stay there.
Bondi later learned the primary judge in the case had declared he would recuse himself from the case, for reasons that were never disclosed.
Then a few days later, a new date for the hearing was set: This Sunday, April 28, which is Orthodox Easter Sunday -- and the judge who had withdrawn from the case, it was learned, has unrecused himself and will preside again afterall.
Bondi, who has viisited and helped countries around the world in her role as attorney general, says she has never seen anything remotely like the bizaare turn of events in Lazareva's case.
When Kuwaiti officials were concerned some $496 million might be embezzled, they froze the money in a bank in Dubai. In February, the money was released -- but Lazareva remains behind bars.
Several witnesses who initially testified that Lazareva had broken the law have since recanted, and another was convicted of foregery, Bondi says.
Freeh told CBNNews.com: "It's awful. The evidence wouldn't stand up [in the U.S. legal system]. We have legal processes that at least give the defendant the opportunity to call a witness or cross-examine a government witness, so they were really denied all of that here."
Bondi says Lazareva's firm holds major U.S. Defense Contracts that others in Kuwaiti society covet. "It's money," she says. "It's billions and billions of dollars. And if they eliminate Marsha, they are basically the only game in town."
She hastens to add: "We believe the Emir is a very good man, and we are confident when this case reaches his level, he will release Marsha."
Freeh and other members of Lazareva's defense team will once again be journeying to Kuwait this weekend to participate in Sunday's hearing -- if they're finally allowed to testify, that is.
In the meantime, Bondi says Lazareva's spirit continues to shine through even as she languishes behind bars and her health declines. "She's a Christian and she knows how difficult it was for us to be away from our families on Easter Sunday, in a foreign country halfway around the world. She was thanking us, telling us that she's not going to give up, and that we have given her faith to keep fighting. And she will continue to fight to get out and be with her family, and to be with her child."
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