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Release of Russian woman from #Kuwait prison sparks anger

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A Russian woman has been released from prison in Kuwait after bail of $3.3 million was posted. Marsha Lazareva (pictured) has spent 470 days behind bars, writes Philip Braund.

She was found guilty of embezzlement last year and sentenced to ten years in prison. The decision to allow Lazareva to be freed has angered people caught up in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Abdul Aziz Abdullah Al-Yaqout, at Meysan Partners in Kuwait said: “Many people are disappointed at the bail decision. She was found guilty by the Kuwaiti courts of assisting in the embezzlement of money from the Kuwait Port Authority and received a lengthy sentence of hard labour.”

“However, she has been supported by powerful allies who have attempted to portray the Kuwaiti judiciary as not being independent and impartial.

“Anyone who knows the Kuwaiti judiciary, knows that this is not true.”

An unnamed Kuwaiti “dignitary” put up the bail.

The campaign to free Lazareva has been fought by some of the world’s most powerful political families. Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Neil Bush, son of the late US President George Bush, and Tatyana Yumasheva, the youngest daughter of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin, have all fought for her release.

Lazareva, 44, was the vice-chair and managing director of KGL Investment.  KGL handled The Port Fund, whose investors included the Kuwait Ports Authority and the Kuwait Public Institution for Social Security.

In a decade the fund doubled its value – an investment of $188 million became $380m. But, as the returns were being made, the fund was frozen by a Dubai bank in 2017.

Lazareva was accused of embezzling nearly half a billion US dollars.
After serving a year in prison, her conviction was nullified by the Kuwait Court of Appeal. But Lazareva has remained in jail – until yesterday.

Her lawyers argued she was being held in violation of international law and the charges against her were an orchestrated campaign by Kuwaiti officials. They raised concerns about the independence and impartiality of certain judges, prosecutors and lawyers in her case,
and added that Lazareva was convicted at a show trial on evidence from a single witness and forged documents.

The court delivered a verdict without the defence team being allowed to plead.  In a statement through her team Lazareva said: “I’m grateful to everyone involved for obtaining my release on bail. I now intend to fight to fully clear my name once and for all."

The case is due to be heard by the Kuwait Court of Appeal next week.

Cherie Blair said: “The rule of law, the proper administration of justice and due process depends on an independent and impartial judiciary, as well as the ability for defence counsel vigorously to defend their clients without improper interference or reprisals by the State. Sadly these principles have not been observed in Marsha’s case.
”Marsha’s unjust and arbitrary detention, and her experience of Kuwait’s legal system, raise fundamental concerns about the treatment of foreign investors in Kuwait and the broader environment for foreign investment.”

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Kazakhstan’s Kairat Abdrakhmanov appointed OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

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Kairat Abdrakhmanov. Photo credit: Kazakh Foreign Ministry

Kazakh diplomat and Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Sweden and Denmark Kairat Abdrakhmanov (pictured) was appointed High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi at a press briefing today (4 December), writes Assel Satubaldina.

The decision was made during the 27th meeting of the OSCE Council of Foreign Ministers that took place online 3-4 December.

Abdrakhmanov’s candidacy was submitted by Kazakhstan and was “positively welcomed by all OSCE members”, said the minister, which, according to him, attests to Kazakhstan’s increasing role and influence on the international arena as well as the political reforms carried out by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the 57-nation OSCE in 2010 also served as a positive factor.

Abdrakhmanov is a veteran Kazakh diplomat. A graduate of the Al Farabi Kazakh National University, he previously served as Kazakh Foreign Minister, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE and to the United Nations, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Austria, and Israel.

The post of High Commissioner on National Minorities is one of the key positions at the OSCE assigned to identify and address situations in regard to tensions involving national minorities, which could give rise to a conflict between OSCE member states. The commissioner personally visits representatives of governments and minorities and analyzes the current threats to stability in the OSCE region.

The high commissioner is elected every three years and Abdrakhmanov replaced Italian diplomat Lamberto Zannier, whose three-year tenure ended 18 July this year.

Being appointed as OSCE High Commissioner, Abdrakhmanov will have to relinquish his position as Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Sweden and Denmark to “ensure objectivity and impartiality.”

“As you know, 2020 has been uneasy for the OSCE, because, over the past months, the organization’s senior positions were vacant. In July, all four relinquished their mandates. We believe it was an institutional crisis. But a solution was found today, and the consensus was achieved on key positions,” said Tileuberdi, noting that no diplomat from the Commonwealth of Independent States and Central Asia has been previously appointed to such a high-level position.

During the meeting, the decision was also made on the OSCE Secretary-General, Special Representative for the Freedom of the Media and head of the Office for Elections and Human Rights. The four top positions at the organization remained vacant since July.

“Our country will continue to work in close cooperation with Sweden’s chairmanship at the OSCE,” concluded the minister.

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€6.1 billion for sustainable fisheries and safeguarding fishing communities 

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Today (4 December) EU legislators reached a provisional agreement on how EU countries will be able to spend funds allocated to fisheries and aquaculture for 2021-2027.

The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for the period 2021-2027 amounts to €6.1 billion (€6.108bn EUR in current prices). €5.3bn will be allocated for the management of fisheries, aquaculture and fishing fleets, while the remaining sum will cover measures such as scientific advice, controls and checks, market intelligence, maritime surveillance and security.

Member states will have to spend at least 15% of the money on efficient fisheries control and enforcement, including fighting against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In line with the Green Deal, actions under the fund will contribute to the overall budget objective to dedicate 30% of funds to climate action.

Compensation for fishermen

If fishermen’s activities cease permanently, they can be supported to scrap or decommission a vessel. In order to receive compensation, the equivalent fishing capacity is permanently removed from the EU fishing fleet register and the beneficiary must not register any fishing vessel within five years of receiving support.

If fishing activities cease temporarily, fishermen may be granted compensation for a maximum duration of 12 months per vessel or per fisherman during the programming period.

Specific needs of small-scale coastal fishing and young fishermen

Member states will need to take into account the specific needs of small-scale coastal fishing, including simplifying administrative requirements. Also, first acquisition of a fishing vessel or partial ownership (of at least 33%) can be funded if the fisherman is no more than 40 years of age and has worked for at least five years as a fisherman or has acquired the equivalent qualification. Fishermen can purchase small-scale coastal vessels (total length less than 12 meters) that have been registered for three years or vessels up to 24 meters that have been registered for five years.

Small-scale vessels may also receive support to replace or modernise engines if the new or modernized engine does not have more power in kW than that of their current engine.

Improving safety, working conditions and energy efficiency

A fishing vessel that is not longer than 24 meters and older than 10 years can have its gross tonnage increased if this results in significant improvements, such as renovating accommodation and other facilities for the well-being of the crew, better on-board fire prevention and safety systems, increased energy efficiency or lower CO2 emissions.

Other key measures

- Engines can be replaced or modernized under strict conditions: for vessels between 12 and 24 meters and at least five years old, the new or modernised engine must not have more power in kW and a reduction of 20% CO2 emissions must be ensured; the fishing capacity withdrawn due to engine replacement or modernisation cannot be replaced.

- Focus on outermost regions: member states will have to prepare an action plan for each of their outermost regions; specific budget allocations are foreseen.

- Support may also be granted for storage of fisheries products in exceptional events generating a significant disruption of markets.

Rapporteur Gabriel Mato (EPP, ES) said: “We reached a balanced agreement on the future European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. A fund that would enable the EU fleet to fish and farm better, not to fish more. A fund that would allow the sector to invest in workers’ safety and wellbeing and environmentally-efficient engines and vessels. And a fund that would allow for generational renewal, while avoiding overcapacity and overfishing. The fishing and aquaculture sectors and the whole seafood value chain need support now more than ever to face current and future challenges.”

Next steps

Parliament and Council are now expected to endorse the agreement. The provisions of the regulation will then apply as of 1 January 2021.

Background

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund proposal was published by the Commission in June 2018 and refers to the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027. The previous EMFF budget covering the years 2014 to 2020 amounted to €6.4bn.

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EU Budget 2021 deal: Supporting the recovery 

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MEPs have fought for and obtained better support for key EU programmes creating jobs, tackling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and boosting climate action.

Today (4 December), the negotiators from the European Parliament and the Council reached a common understanding on the 2021 EU Budget.

The preliminary figures are €164.3 billion in commitment appropriations and €166.1bn in payment appropriations. Detailed figures will be available later.

For a more competitive Europe, creating jobs and investing in the EU’s future

MEPs succeeded in reinforcing, on top of the Commission’s original budget proposal, programmes they considered key to boosting growth and jobs, reflecting widely agreed European Union priorities, namely Digital Europe (+25.7 million) and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for transport infrastructure (+€60.3 million).

Strengthen respect for Europe’s values and boosting climate action

As a supplementary effort to fight climate change, the reinforcements obtained by the EP for the LIFE programme (+€42 million) aim at contributing from the outset to reaching the target of 30% of climate-relevant spending in the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period.

The Rights and Values programme will receive an additional €6.6m, and the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), an independent Union body aiming to fight crimes against the Union budget will benefit from an extra €7.3m.

MFF top-ups: supporting the young, EU research and health care

Other reinforcements for 2021 reflect the top-ups to selected key EU programmes Parliament obtained in the deal with Council on the next long-term EU budget (MFF) 2021-2027.

This is the case for Erasmus+ (+€175.1m), Horizon Europe (research programme, +€20m) and the EU4Health programme, the EU’s response to COVID-19, by a further €74.3m. EU4Health will support medical and healthcare staff, patients and health systems. Similarly, the commitment appropriations for humanitarian aid have been increased by €25m and for supporting the EU’s southern neighbourhood by €10.2m.

“I’m pleased we could reach a swift agreement in the interest of European citizens in these challenging times. With the top-ups for some of the future-looking programmes agreed in the multi-annual framework just weeks ago, we obtained budget increases for other programmes with proven European added value. These extra investments in, for example, the trans-European transport networks and digital Europe all answer to real needs and are in line with the expectations of EU citizens”, said the Chair of the Budgets committee Johan van Overtveldt (ECR, BE).

“Parliament and Council today reached an agreement on the 2021 EU budget. €164 billion to protect citizens, reduce the immediate impact of the crisis and prepare for a more prosperous, balanced and sustainable future. In the last two days of the negotiations, Parliament secured an additional €183m for its priorities: health, climate and employment. Considering the very rigid framework, this is a good result. Faced with governments that were unwilling to give up one cent, Parliament did its utmost and obtained additional increases. But, in all conscience, we all know that this budget is not up to the task. It was the maximum that could be obtained given the multiannual budget that was negotiated with heads of state who decide unanimously.

"But the good news is that there is a solution that can mobilise more than €50bn per year for health, climate and employment, and that will not be blocked by the unanimity rule: taxing speculation by relaunching the existing reinforced cooperation on this subject. I call on the leaders of these pioneering countries, starting with Merkel and Macron, to get to work on this tax without delay”, said the lead rapporteur (Commission section) Pierre Larrouturou (S&D, FR).

"Thanks to the united position of the European Parliament, we have reached a very good political agreement on the 2021 budget of the European Union institutions, despite a difficult context of crisis. My concern throughout these negotiations was to ensure that all the institutions of the Union, i.e. the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the European Ombudsman, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Data Protection Supervisor,..., have sufficient resources and staff to enable them to fulfill their missions as well as possible and to function optimally. This was made possible following our commitment to save money in connection with the changes in our activities during the COVID-19 pandemic", said the rapporteur for the other sections, Oliver Chastel (RENEW,BE).

Next steps

In the absence of an agreement in Council on the EU’s long-term budget (MFF, Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027), the two arms of the EU’s budgetary authority, Parliament and Council, have not formalised their deal. Once the MFF is adopted, Commission will propose the substance of the agreement as second draft budget.

Once Council has formally adopted the compromise in the form of this second draft budget, it will be submitted for approval to the Committee on Budgets, then voted on in plenary in the European Parliament and signed into law by its President.

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