Marsha Lazareva released on bail in Kuwait after UN complaints, but due process concerns continue

Prominent businesswoman, Marsha Lazareva, was released from prison in Kuwait after being unjustly and arbitrarily detained for 472 days. Her release followed two UN complaints filed by her international legal team.

Ms Lazareva was released on bail on 12 June 2019 after repeated failed applications for bail since November 2017. Ms Lazareva had been denied bail in circumstances that had been discriminatory and in violation of international and domestic law. She had been required by the Kuwait courts to post record-breaking bail amounts (in excess of USD $65 million), which – in effect – amounted to a denial of bail.

Following a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in May 2019, a domestic court reduced her bail payment to USD $3.3 million. The complaint was filed by Cherie Blair of Omnia Strategy LLP and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers in London, working as part of an international legal team assembled by Crowell & Moring in Washington DC. It cited Kuwait’s violations of fair trial protections and of protections against arbitrary detention under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

A further UN complaint was filed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, raising concerns with the impartiality of the judges in Ms Lazareva’s case and the targeting of her defence counsel. The complaint was filed by Ms Robinson, working with Mrs Blair and Omnia Strategy, and Jonathan Warboys of 4 New Square Chambers.

Ms Lazareva’s ongoing arbitrary and unjust detention, as well as the questions raised for the rule of law in Kuwait, has raised concern about the foreign investment climate in Kuwait. Ms Lazareva has also filed an investment arbitration claim against Kuwait in relation to her treatment.

Despite having been released on bail, Ms Lazareva still awaits her appeal. She had been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison on the basis of fabricated evidence and was not permitted to put her own case, including defence witnesses. On Sunday 23 June 2019, the Kuwait Court of Appeal finally heard evidence from the defence in her case. This was the first time since their her in November 2017 that the defence has been allowed to present evidence. The hearing was, however, unexpectedly postponed for 3 months to 15 September 2019.

Commenting on this latest development, Cherie Blair CBE, QC said:

Justice delayed is justice denied. This is as flagrant an example as you will find. Marsha and Saeed are being prevented from clearing their names and find themselves in limbo. It is not good for them – or for Kuwait – to allow the matter to fester unresolved.”

During the hearing, the Court heard from expert witnesses former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former FBI forensic accountant Daniel Gill who both challenged the evidence behind the prosecution. Freeh and Gill testified that key evidence was forged, a fact that has been affirmed by Court of Appeal in a separate criminal case. To the confusion of those present, having heard from Freeh, the Court interrupted proceedings to ask him which actor had played him in the popular American TV Series ‘Homeland’.

While having been released on bail, Ms Lazareva continues to be subjected to intrusive 24-hour close surveillance by the security services despite the fact there is no Court order providing for monitoring.

Omnia Strategy is hosting a panel event titled ‘Arbitrary detention and the risks of conducting business abroad’ today at the Geneva Press Club, at which this case will be discussed.

To see the invitation for the Geneva Press Club, please click here.