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No-holds-barred campaign to free Marsha Lazareva jeopardizes KGL’s #Iraq contract

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This January, the US Department of Defense (DoD) quietly reopened the bid for a $138 million contract to feed American troops stationed in Iraq. The region’s primary supplier, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co., or KGL, will continue to be the bridge supplier until a new contract is finalised.  According to Anham, the Dubai-based supplier which held the contract before KGL, the company was allegedly recently shut out from one of the critical warehouses it stores food in. KGL has denied the reports that they have been evicted from their own infrastructure, but the company is embroiled in a broader legal and political crisis following an embezzlement scandal which has landed two of its former executives in prison.

KGL’s credibility as a supplier has taken a particular hit after former executives Saeed Dashti and Marsha Lazareva were found guilty in 2017 of misappropriating $500 million stemming from the sale of an asset in the Philippines into which Kuwait had invested public funds. Initially, Dashti was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Lazareva to 10 years of hard labour, while the pair was jointly fined some $73 million.

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Following Lazareva’s arrest, KGL launched the Persian Gulf’s most intense global lobbying campaign to secure her release, attempting to put international pressure on the Kuwaiti government. The multi-million dollar campaign has left no stones unturned by bringing together high-profile American, British and Russian public figures, generating misleading media coverage, painting the Russian businesswoman as a victim of sexism and anti-Christian politics in Kuwait, and even organizing fake protests to “support” Lazareva.

The campaign continues—as do the KGL executives’ legal problems. Kuwaiti courts overturned the Russian CEO’s conviction in May 2019 and she was freed on bail in June—but Lazareva and Dashti were convicted again in November 2019; other charges remain pending.

Flexing all muscles to prove Lazareva’s innocence

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Among the who’s who of political elite supporting Lazareva’s case is Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. She gave a passionate press statement claiming that Lazareva’s arrest was incredibly unjust as it would separate her from her 4-year-old son, a US citizen, on top of setting a dangerous precedent for women’s leadership in the Middle East. Blair’s law firm, Omnia Strategy, has even gone as far as to file a petition with the United Nations requesting an investigation into Lazareva’s detention.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Neil Bush, the son of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, former FBI director Louis Freeh, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher have all put their hands on the deck to defend Lazareva. Framing the charges against Lazareva as an international human rights violation, Neil Bush wrote a dramatic opinion piece in The Washington Times, even calling on the legacy of his father ‘who helped liberate Kuwait’ and urging Kuwait to reconsider its decision to prosecute who Bush claims is an innocent mother.

Trying every trick in the book, Lazareva’s campaign has also played the religion card. Toufic Baaklini, the president of an NGO which works to protect the rights of Christians in the Middle East wrote a stirring article published in the conservative Washington Examiner. He claimed that Lazareva—“a Pennsylvania mom”, according to him—was denied the right to practice her religion as she was forced to wear a burqa and attend court proceedings on auspicious days such as Easter Sunday. Other mainstream conservative outlets, such as Fox News, picked up on this angle and deployed pitying headlines to portray Lazareva as a “Christian businesswoman” imprisoned in Kuwait.

Indeed, it’s no accident that such a wide variety of American news outlets have been echoing the same narrative to drum up support for Lazareva. Through Marathon Strategies, the New York-based public affairs firm working for KGLI, the embattled company has spent millions to pay writers and bloggers to generate articles, columns and TV segments. To generate further media coverage for their cause, Lazareva’s supporters even organised a protest outside the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington. The demonstration garnered sympathetic coverage from right-wing site the Daily Caller—but it turned out that the “protesters” had been assembled by a Californian ‘crowds on demand’ company.

Need for a reliable supplier to feed American troops

It is surprising that American political heavyweights are ready to pick bones with the government of Kuwait, long one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, at a time when the region is mired in hostility. Members of the US government, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have had no qualms about even parroting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s demands to release Lazareva.

Whether the gargantuan lobbying effort Lazareva’s backers have mounted will help her defend her case is a debatable issue but what it surely is doing is bringing KGL under the limelight. The firm has repeatedly faced charges of corruption, non-payment of debts and been accused of receiving illicit flows from Russia, Iran, and Syria. Back in 2018, US Senator Marco Rubio even wrote to the Department of Defense calling for investigations into KGL’s alleged circumventing of American sanctions on Iran by providing the Islamic Republic with logistical support and illegally selling aircraft parts to Iranian actors.

Perhaps the real issue that politicians like Bush and the media should focus on is the American military’s long-term association with a problematic supplier like KGL. The DoD’s decision to reopen the bid for the Subsistence Prime Vendor contract in Iraq reflects the need for a reliable supplier in the region—particularly given the complicated security situation left behind after the US killing of Iran’s top military commander. With KGL allegedly evicted from its warehouses and ensnared in legal issues in Kuwaiti courts, it’s becoming increasingly clear that KGL cannot be that reliable supplier.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

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The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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