UN reprisal complaint made after Kuwait state agency threatens international counsel to Marsha Lazareva

Russian businesswoman, Marsha Lazareva, has brought a complaint to the United Nations after she and her legal team have faced threats and intimidation from a state-owned entity in Kuwait. The threats were made after Ms Lazareva and her legal team had filed an investment treaty claim and UN complaints against Kuwait over her imprisonment on false charges.

Jennifer Robinson acts for Ms Lazareva as part of the international counsel team working with Cherie Blair QC on U.N. complaints and advocacy. She instructed by Omnia LLP in London and Crowell & Moring in Washington DC. Crowell & Moring is representing Ms Lazareva in the investment arbitration.

Ms Lazareva’s complaint, dated 4 September, relates to threats made last month by the Kuwait Port Authority (KPA) against her, her arbitration counsel Crowell & Moring, her public relations firm Marathon Strategies, and her international counsel working with Omnia LLP.

Lazareva, a former managing director at Kuwait-based KGL Investment (KGLI), was arrested in November 2017 after being falsely accused of embezzling funds in relation to advisory work conducted for the KPA. In a second case, she was also charged with embezzlement of funds related to an investment vehicle known as The Port Fund. She had managed the creation of the fund, whose investors included the KPA, other Kuwaiti state entities and investors from the Gulf.

Ms Lazareva launched an arbitration in July last year, alleging that her treatment by Kuwaiti authorities is in violation of the Kuwait-Russia bilateral investment treaty. The case is being heard by an UNCITRAL tribunal and ICSID is administering the proceeding, which is seated in Paris.

This year she filed an urgent appeal with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in relation to her ongoing detention and due process violations. She also filed a complaint with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers over concerns for the independence and impartiality of the judges and prosecutors in her case.

Soon after the U.N. complaints were filed, Ms Lazareva’s conviction was quashed and she was released on bail after spending over a year and a half in prison away from her young son. She still faces a re-trial and a further criminal investigation and is the subject of a travel ban.

The KPA issued two press releases in English and Arabic on 17 August. In the English release, it cited US regulatory filings by Crowell & Moring and Marathon relating to their work for Ms Lazareva and said it would notify “the relevant criminal authorities”, claiming the firms are using misappropriated Kuwaiti government funds “in a highly unethical scheme to attack the Kuwaiti government itself.”

Lazareva says that the allegation that her legal team is being paid with money from The Port Fund is inaccurate and has “not been substantiated or explained.”

In the Arabic version of the release, KPA described the UN complaints being made against Kuwait for Ms Lazareva under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as “attacks against Kuwait” and “may be classified as treason” and a breach of national security. The KPA called for the Kuwaiti authorities to commence a criminal investigation.

Ms Lazareva says that the threats against her and her counsel are a direct response to her UNCITRAL claim and appeals she has launched to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. She also alleges in her latest UN complaint that upon her release from jail she was “followed by people in three cars who tracked and monitored her” despite there being no court order providing for this. She says that members of her legal team and supporters have also been tracked after meetings with her.

The businesswoman says that there are “serious concerns” regarding the safety of members of her counsel team planning to attend the criminal hearing next week. She says the KPA press releases appear to be intentionally designed to intimidate counsel working on her case and “deter team members from travelling to Kuwait under threat of being arrested.”

Lazareva requests that the UN Secretary General and Assistant Secretary-General emphasise “the gravity” of a UN member state intimidating and initiating reprisals against her and her legal team. She also asks that the president of the Human Rights Council raises the matter with the Kuwaiti government’s representation in Geneva and that the UN issues an opinion on the actions of the Kuwaiti government and KPA.

Ms Lazareva's case has been raised with Kuwait by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The matter has also been raised US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump. Pompeo reportedly discussed the matter with the Kuwaiti Emir in a trip to the country in March.

The reprisals complaint was reported in the Global Arbitration News.