Story By: Anastasia Smirnova, Sub-Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Central European News
This Russian businesswoman who was being represented by Cherie Blair’s law foundation has been sentenced to 15 years in jail and hard labour in Kuwait for embezzling over 380 million GBP.
Russian-born Marsha Lazareva, 44, has been sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labour in Kuwait for embezzling 496 million USD (386,455,920 GBP).
Lazareva was the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of an investment property called The Port Fund, among whose investors are the Kuwait Ports Authority and the Kuwait Public Institution for Social Security.
Within 10 years the fund had risen from its original investment of 188 million USD (146 million GBP) to 335 million USD (261 million GBP).
The trouble began in 2017 when the fund’s management was in the process of distributing returns to its limited partners, including the Kuwait Ports Authority and the Kuwait Public Institution for Social Security.
Lazareva was arrested in November 2017 on suspicion of having stolen 496 million USD (386,455,920 GBP) but Forbes later reported the money had actually been frozen by a Dubai bank.
She was accused of embezzling money from the Kuwait Ports Authority and wasting public funds.
She paid a reported 33 million USD (25,710,300 GBP) in joint bail with fellow executive Saeed Dashti but remained detained.
She was found guilty in May 2018 but the conviction was reportedly based on the testimony of a Kuwait State Audit Bureau staffer who has since been accused and charged with making up the evidence used against Lazareva.
Her conviction of 10 years in prison was overturned in May 2019 and she was released in June 2019 on 3.3 million USD (2,571,030 GBP) bail paid for by an unnamed Kuwaiti dignitary.
She had spent 470 days in Kuwait’s Sulaibiya jail.
Despite her conviction being overturned, she was released on bail with further charges of money laundering pending.
The Russian, who previously held a green card in the United States and whose five-year-old son was born in the US, has now been convicted of the two counts of money laundering and sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labour.
She has also been handed a further 9.4 million USD (7,323,540 GBP) in fines.
Speaking in an interview with Sky News about the case in recent days, Cherie Blair said:
“This is not just about Marsha.
“This is actually about the worrying sign that the rule of law in Kuwait is being heavily undermined.
She added: “Anyone who is independent who has looked at the case against Marsha […] is just astonished that any prosecutor could’ve thought that this was a case.”
She also said: “The documents that were used to convict her were forged and the person who forged them was charged and convicted himself of forgery and sentenced to six months in prison.”
Blair added: “At the heart of this actually is a commercial rivalry between two firms, one of which is the parent company of the fund that Marsha worked for, and the other is a rival company that are competing with each other for American defence contracts.”
Blair also said: “The business rival is very well connected politically and has been able to manipulate the legal system.”
She also said the Russians, the Americans and the British were petitioning for her release.
Cherie Blair’s legal group, of the Cherie Blair Foundation for women, is part of the team representing Lazareva.
The wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had previously said that the principles of “an independent and impartial judiciary” and a defence being able to work “without improper interference or reprisals by the State” were not observed in the case after her client’s conviction.
The legal team plan to appeal but the first possibility to do that would be 90 days after the sentencing, according to local legislation.
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