- - Thursday, April 25, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A4-year-old U.S. citizen is currently stuck in Kuwait, while his mother has been in jail for more than a year for crimes she didn’t commit. His grandmother, a resident of Pennsylvania has been forced to travel to Kuwait to care for her grandson, and is desperate to bring him home.

This is the country my father helped liberate and, to his last day, he was proud that Kuwait remained an honorable and respected member of the international community. These human rights abuses are not in keeping with the Kuwait I know, and unless Kuwait’s leadership is able to correct this injustice, Congress should take steps to sanction the individuals responsible.

The case of Marsha Lazareva highlights a threat to any member of the international community looking to do business in Kuwait. A graduate of the prestigious Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, the CEO and vice chairman of KGL Investment, Marsha had moved to Kuwait over a decade ago and rose to become one of the most successful investment managers in the Middle East.

As her success grew, she became subject to a series of harassing and unfounded accusations. In 2017, her firm inked a large real estate deal in the Philippines that earned a windfall for her investors. A group of rogue Kuwaiti officials then orchestrated a campaign to freeze the money her firm had earned for its investors, frame Marsha for embezzlement and have her sent to prison.

Her trial was anything but just, and she was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor without the right to call even one witness in her defense. The sole witness presenting evidence against her, a Kuwait government auditor, relied on clearly forged documents that the court used to convict her. Now Marsha shares a cell with seven other women in the notoriously overcrowded Sulaibiya Prison. Her physical and mental health have declined significantly due to the shock and stress of her circumstances.



As Kuwait moves to crack down on corruption within its borders, I hope its leaders will look closely at the facts surrounding this case. As a result of repeated failures of the court system, a young American child will be stuck in Kuwait without access to his mother for much of his formative years.

The Global Magnitsky Act, signed into law in 2016, gives the U.S. government sweeping powers to sanction individuals involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption. U.S. officials should use it to punish those responsible for Marsha’s incarceration by freezing their accounts and assets, and block them from engaging in transactions with U.S. persons.

For my part, I’ve joined with a team of prominent officials from the United States and the U.K. to right this injustice inside Kuwait and press for Marsha’s release. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, Congressman Ed Royce and Ambassador Jim Nicholson and I recently traveled to Kuwait to attend a hearing in her appeal proceedings, and another hearing has been scheduled for April 28. I am concerned that if this case remains unresolved and continues to receive international attention, it could negatively impact the United States’ relationship with Kuwait.

Kuwait has been a strong partner to the United States, and the royal family has maintained an enduring and sincere friendship with my family for generations. The amir of Kuwait is also known for his humanitarian efforts, having been honored with the Humanitarian Leadership Award by the United Nations.

Jailing an innocent woman — separating her from her young son — is a blemish on Kuwait’s record on human rights. Our team will be returning to Kuwait for the hearing this upcoming Sunday, and if the court fails to release her, there will almost certainly be consequences that reverberate outside this case. I urge the prosecutor general not to let that happen and to immediately release Marsha and allow her and her young son to return to the United States.

• Neil Bush is an international business leader and human rights advocate, and the son of former President George H.W. Bush.

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