In #Kuwait, the rule of law is under American assault

| August 14, 2019

This month marks the anniversary of the start of Operation Desert Shield, in which US President George H.W. Bush brought together a coalition of 35 countries to liberate my country, Kuwait, from the clutches of Saddam Hussein. At the end of that struggle, the late President Bush declared from the Oval Office that “Kuwait is once more in the hands of Kuwaitis, in control of their own destiny. We share in their joy, a joy tempered only by our compassion for their ordeal.” – writes Omar al-Essa, the former President of the Kuwait Lawyers’ Association

I recall those words and my feeling of pride in being a Kuwaiti citizen, deeply appreciative of President Bush’s efforts to free our country from the rule of tyrant and the arbitrary authoritarianism he represented.

Unfortunately, those warm feelings are not reciprocated by all members of the Bush family. Indeed, one of the late President Bush’s own sons has recently lent his name to an international campaign designed not only to denigrate our country’s international standing, but also to undermine the independence of our judiciary.

Over the past several months, Neil Bush – who is also the younger brother of former President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush – has seemingly decided to monetize his father’s legacy by accepting work as a paid spokesperson for a multimillion dollar public relations blitz to exonerate logistics executive Marsha Lazareva, a Russian national currently on trial for embezzling Kuwaiti public funds.

Paid for by Ms. Lazareva’s company, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport (KGL), this campaign has brought together a team of lobbyists and advisors that includes former American officials, prominent members of the British establishment, and high-ranking representatives of the Russian government.

What does this “who’s who” of lobbyists hope to gain by attacking Kuwait and its legal system? It appears their ultimate objective is to descredit the serious charges facing Ms. Lazareva and Saeed Dashti, two executives of KGL and an associated firm, KGL Investment.

In a recent opinion piece published by the Washington Times, Neil Bush claims to have joined a team of prominent officials from the United States and United Kingdom to fight injustice and human rights abuses in Kuwait. Since then, Mr. Bush has used a spate of media appearances to portray Kuwait’s legal system as illegitimate and ultimately pervert the course of justice in the service of his client.

In his piece, Bush implied Lazareva’s conviction betrays his father’s memory, writing that “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.” Just a few lines further down, he calls for sanctions against the public officials of one of America’s closest and most reliable allies.

In reality, both KGL and its executives have placed themselves in serious legal jeopardy. Last year, Foreign Policy reported that KGL faces “allegations of sanctions busting” stemming from its dealings with a U.S.-sanctioned Iranian joint venture partner. Ms. Lazareva and Mr. Dashti were previously convicted of embezzlement and are separately charged with siphoning from the Port Fund, a private equity fund they controlled and which managed more than $100 million of Kuwaiti public money. American lawmakers including Senator Marco Rubio have previously called on their own government to investigate KGL and its alleged wrongdoings, especially because the company holds hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of US government contracts.

And yet, rather than let the judicial process in Kuwait work independently and without prejudice, Ms. Lazareva and Mr. Dashti’s advocates have twisted the case against Marsha Lazareva and Saeed Dashti into that of a kangaroo court subjecting a “Christian businesswoman” to “arbitrary detention.” Motivated by this false narrative, several members of Congress in the United States are even pushing for the US government to apply the Global Magnitsky Act, a legal tool designed to punish human rights abuses by authoritarian governments, against judicial officials in Kuwait.

As a life-long legal practitioner in Kuwait, including as the former Vice Chairman of the Kuwait Lawyers Association and a founder of the Kuwait Transparency Society, these sweeping and unfounded criticisms of our judicial system are nothing short of offensive and represent an incredible hubris unbecoming of the individuals involved. While Neil Bush and his fellow lobbyists make baseless allegations against the Kuwaiti judicial system, the fact remains that Marsha Lazareva, Saeed Dashti, and their associates have yet to answer serious questions about their use of Kuwaiti public monies.

As in any country where the rule of law reigns paramount, it is the Kuwaiti judiciary’s job to make sure those questions are answered. It is essential Kuwait’s public prosecutors are permitted to investigate thoroughly and independently without outside interference, intimidation, or threats – even if those threats come from the son of one of the most respected figures in our country’s history.

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Category: A Frontpage, Kuwait, Opinion, US

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