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Kuwaiti Court Convicts Mother of 5-Year Old American Citizen

Despite clear evidence of innocence, Marsha Lazareva sentenced to 15 years hard labor: Crowell & Moring continues international effort for her release

Washington – November 11, 2019: A Kuwaiti court convicted Marsha Lazareva today of two counts of money laundering and sentenced her to 15 years in prison with hard labor.  An Orthodox Christian business leader and single mother of a 5-year-old U.S. citizen, Lazareva has been the target of ongoing persecution by the Kuwait government.

"This shocking conviction of an innocent woman only proves the absence of the rule of law in Kuwait,” said David Hammond, a partner at Crowell & Moring, who leads Lazareva’s defense team.  “A handful of rouge Kuwait officials believe they are above the law and can act with impunity. If the verdict in this case represents what we fought for in Kuwait, the American public may not support doing so again."

Crowell & Moring is leading an international effort to release Lazareva. Those efforts are backed by a wide circle of international legal experts, including former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Freeh has reviewed all charges against Lazareva and found them to be baseless.

“As a former judge and government prosecutor committed to the Rule of Law, I am very disappointed and saddened to see the Kuwaiti Court enter a judgment of criminal conviction today in the Port Fund case against Marsha Lazareva,” Freeh said. “This was done despite her clear innocence.”

Lazareva faces continued separation from her young son, Yvan, for whom she is the sole care-giver, and her mother, Lidia, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Lazareva previously spent 474 days in a Kuwaiti prison on a separate set of false charges before having her conviction overturned after a Kuwaiti appeals court found that the trial court ignored Lazareva’s rights to present a defense.

Attorneys and supporters of Lazareva have vowed to appeal this conviction, and to secure intervention from the U.S. government and the United Nations to end what they view as an egregious human rights violation.

“Kuwait has had countless opportunities to root out corruption within its legal system and drop the false charges against Marsha Lazareva,” said Neil Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush. “Its failure to do so has resulted in today’s false conviction and may leave the United States government no choice but to intervene and hold those responsible to account.”

“I am disappointed, but not surprised by the judgment of the Kuwait Court,” said Cherie Blair CBE, QC, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and an international human rights advocate and lawyer. “It follows a campaign of persecution against Marsha and grave flaws in the judicial process which raise serious questions for Kuwait.”

“In Defense of Christians is very disappointed by the conviction Monday of Marsha Lazareva, the Orthodox Christian woman being wrongfully held in Kuwait, and its impact on her five-year-old son who is with her,” said Peter Burns, Government Relations and Policy Director for In Defense of Christians.  “In a miscarriage of justice, Kuwait sentenced Marsha to fifteen years in prison on false charges.  The U.S. must demand that Kuwait correct this immediately and let Marsha and her son return to their home in America and to their faith community at Saint Andrews Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia."

Five members of the United States Congress have already requested an investigation into Lazareva’s case under the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the United States to impose sanctions against foreign citizens who have been found to have committed human rights violations and engaged in corruption. This includes the freezing of assets in U.S. financial institutions, and prohibition from entering the U.S.

Letters from all Members of Congress can be viewed here.

Previous requests for an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act have named six Kuwaiti officials as likely targets: Sheikh Youssef Al-Sabah, General Manager of the Kuwait Port Authority; Attorney General Dherar Ali Al-Asousi; Sheikh Khaled Abdullah S. N. Al-Sabah, the Chief of Amir Protocol and Chamberlain; Prosecutor Homood Al-Shamy;  Judge Metab Al-Ardi; State Audit Bureau official Hamad Al-Allayan and Mohammed Bin-Naji, Head of the Kuwait Appeals Court, as well as any others who have participated in this corrupt scheme.

The non-profit In Defense of Christians, which advocates for the protection and preservation of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East, has also written to U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asking for a Global Magnitsky Act investigation and has taken up Lazareva’s cause and criticized her treatment as an Orthodox Christian woman while in a Kuwait prison.

As vice chair and managing director of KGL Investment,  Lazareva was the only foreign woman serving as the head of an investment company in Kuwait. In her capacity at KGLI, she managed the creation of an investment fund called The Port Fund.

In May 2019, a complaint was filed with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which expects to consider the case next week. Separately, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has expressed his concern about a lack of trial guarantees and intimidation against Lazareva’s legal team, and on 8 November “strongly encourage[d]” Kuwait’s judiciary to “safeguard Ms. Lazareva’s due process rights.”


Anthony Hogrebe
Marathon Strategies