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5th Congressman Joins Fight to Free Businesswoman in Kuwait

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla. (Tom Williams/AP)

A fifth member of Congress has joined in the battle to force Kuwait to free a prominent Wharton Business School grad and investment firm CEO inexplicably detained there for nearly two years – including 470 days in a dingy, furnace-like prison cell.

According to sources has learned exclusively Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., wrote to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, asking him to launch an investigation under Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act into Kuwait’s conviction and imprisonment of Marsha Lazareva.

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 the 44-year-old businesswoman spent 470 days in a sweltering prison, where temperatures top 100 degrees, 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 charged of attempting to embezzle half a billion dollars from a real estate project – charges the courts will weigh later this year. Her bail was first set at a staggering $65 million, but later reduced to just over $3 million.

In his letter to Mnuchin, a copy of which was obtained, Bilirakis – a ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight – wrote:

“Lazareva, an Orthodox Christian was arrested on charges that were nullified . . . but continues to be prosecuted. Her 474 days of imprisonment caused a 15-month separation from her 4-year-old son . . . The fact her conviction was overturned and she cannot freely leave the country is extraordinarily troubling.

“This kind of improper conduct and human rights abuse is not acceptable by a trusted ally in the Gulf Region. The Kuwait government needs to address these concerns . . . I am fully supportive of your office investigating . . .”

Others who have already asked Mnuchin to intervene include: Sen. Roger F. Wicker, R-Miss., Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.

Bilirakis’ plea comes three weeks after an international team of human rights activists – including American businessman Neil Bush, British barrister Cheri Blair, and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi rallied in New York City to demand Lazavera be allowed to return to the U.S. immediately.

The Kuwait courts were supposed to have had a hearing on the case Oct. 13, but without explanation, it has been postponed until Nov. 11.

“[This] just shows yet another procrastination from the judges on this case,” a source close to Lazareva.

Blair, who is representing Lazavera, Bush, 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 have said they hope all businesses will think twice before making any deals with Kuwait.

“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,” Bush said last month during a briefing with journalists at the Penn Club in New York City.

Bondi, who has travelled to Kuwait to visit Lazavera, added 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.

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.

“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 recently.

Lazareva, although born in Russia, has lived in the U.S. for many years and her son is an American citizen, who so far has been unable to attend school in the U.S. because his mother cannot leave Kuwait.

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