An international team of human rights activists – including American businessman Neil Bush, British barrister Cheri Blair, and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi turned up the heat on Kuwait on Wednesday for its highly dubious detention of a prominent Wharton Business School grad and investment firm CEO – demanding she be allowed to return to the United States immediately.
"Kuwait's reputation for human rights has been damaged; its reputation for doing business has been damaged," Bush said during a briefing with journalists at the Penn Club in New York City. "Unless somebody drops the charges, lifts the travel ban, and allows Marsha to come home where she belongs in Pennsylvania, Kuwait's reputation is shot."
Marsha Lazareva, who ran KGL Investment Co., which had government contracts with Kuwait, has been under house arrest in the Persian Gulf state of 4.5 million since June.
Previously, she spent 470 days in a sweltering prison for allegedly cheating the Kuwaiti Port Authority – a conviction tossed by the Kuwait Court of Appeals when it was discovered her accuser forged papers used to convict her. But now, Lazareva is accused of attempting to embezzle half a billion dollars from a real estate project – charges the courts will weigh in November. Her bail was first set at a staggering $65 million, but later reduced to just over $3 million.
Bush, Blair, and Bondi believe there is a conspiracy against her – one they are narrowing down to a list of potential enemies who appear to have Kuwait's justice system in their pocket. They declined to name the suspects Wednesday, saying they are investigating them to nail down the truth before releasing their names.
They also hope all businesses will think twice before making any deals with Kuwait.
"Marsha's detention, and her experience of Kuwait's legal system, raises fundamental concerns about the treatment of foreign investors in Kuwait," Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Bondi, who has travelled to Kuwait to visit Lazavera, added that law enforcement there has gone out of its way to intimidate Lazareva by surrounding her with hulking guards during court appearances and refusing to let her use an interpreter.
"The first time I saw her in court, she was in shackles, this little woman, and they had her locked up in a barbed-wire prison where temperatures topped 100 degrees," Bondi said.
Adding to Lazareva's pain and suffering is the fact she was separated from her 4-year-old son while she was incarcerated. The boy – in agony – was callously told his mom was traveling the world on business. Now that she is out of prison and the two have been reunited, however, the child is unable to begin kindergarten in the United States.
The three advocates Wednesday asked Americans to write their senators and congressmen to keep the pressure on Kuwait to release Lazavera. They have also enlisted the help of Sen. Roger F. Wicker, R-Miss., Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. — who have asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to launch a probe into her case under the Global Magnitsky Act.
Another heavy hitter who has attempted to intervene is Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – but Bondi said Kuwait has ignored his pleas.
Adding urgency to the situation is the fact Lazareva's elderly mother is now undergoing cancer treatment in Pennsylvania and she might never see her again if Kuwait refuses to let her return to the U.S.
In the meantime, Blair has filed a petition on Lazareva's behalf with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
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