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Kuwait Ports Authority director under investigation for assault

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Two arms of the Kuwaiti government have opened inquiries into allegations that Sheikh Yusuf Al-Abdullah (pictured), a member of the Kuwaiti royal family and director of the Kuwait Ports Authority, assaulted an expat working at a local business’s warehouse.

For his part, Abdullah maintains that he was antagonized by security guards at the warehouse for performing his duties, inspecting a business within the KPA’s jurisdiction.

The security footage of the incident, which went viral on Twitter and was shared by highly followed accounts like Media Court, shows the Director General outside the warehouse entrance with an entourage of officials. At one point, he charges toward the lone security guard seen on camera, who had a phone in hand. He then grabs the phone from the guard and slaps him across the face.

The video has caught the attention of Kuwaiti leadership. Some members of Kuwait’s parliament, including Abdul Karim Al-Kandari and Mohammed AlMutair, have issued statements condemning the official’s conduct and calling for an investigation.

In the wake of the outcry of criticism, the Minister of Commerce said it would form a fact-finding committee. The Complaints and Grievances Committee of the National Office for Human Rights has also submitted an inquiry to the Minister of Commerce and Industry. 

The incident occurred during a visit Abdullah made in late March to Amin International Company for the Transport of Valuables and Guarding Facilities at Shuwaikh Port. Abdullah suspected that the company was laundering money and seized 100 million dinars from Amin International’s warehouse and submitted a complaint to the Attorney General, according to a public disclosure by Amin’s parent company, KGL. 

After a 16-hour investigation, the Public Prosecution returned the 100m dinars to Amin International and determined that there was no wrongdoing. KGL called the complaint a “malicious attack” and noted that Amin International “has been allocated a storage space to store the transferred funds, as part of its licensed purposes to transfer, sort, count and store funds belonging to many local banks in Kuwait, commercial companies and banking services companies, in addition to feeding ATMs, 24-hour automation inside Kuwait.” KGL disputed Abdullah’s claims that the funds were from an unknown source, and the logistics company says they submitted all supporting documents that show the source of the funds, the nature of its contracts, and its relevant business activity. 

Even as the controversy continues to swirl, the KPA has shown no indication that it intends to back down.

On the same day video of Abdullah slapping the security guard was released, the head of public relations for the KPA, Naseer AlShelami, tweeted a different video of Abdullah walking outside the Amin warehouse and panned to a security guard holding a dog on a leash in the periphery. AlShelami included a statement with the video that some have interpreted as racially charged given the guard’s African background, writing “…does a minister or member of parliament accept that a director general and law enforcement officials from 6 government agencies are threatened with dogs in the possession of African guards!! Are we in a country or a jungle?”

This is not the first controversy involving Abdullah, whose role as KPA director gives him authority over some of the most strategically important shipping ports in the gulf region. 

In 2016, during a meeting with the Ministry of Finance’s Financial Observes Authority, which oversees the KPA’s payroll and finances, Abdullah became frustrated and allegedly assaulted two financial observers. It was reported that the financial observers were taken to a local hospital and filed a police report. However, Abdullah also filed a police report and claimed that the individuals insulted and assaulted him first and that he responded in kind.

Operators in the port have alleged that the KPA under Abdullah's leadership has played favorites and protects the interests of a handful of companies with close relationships with port authority leadership. For example, in early 2020, the Kuwaiti Ports Authority advanced a policy that would limit access to Shuaiba Port, one of the most trafficked in the state’s port system, to only five designated companies. The KPA argued the move was necessary to improve commercial port services and limit access to companies that are not qualified to perform stevedoring and handling in the ports belonging to the Authority. However, as the business community tells it, the policy was a “guillotine,” putting them at a competitive disadvantage and pushing them towards bankruptcy, during a time when so many logistics companies were suffering due to COVID-19. They claimed that the policy change is a veiled attempt to benefit favored operators at the detriment of other vendors.

Following the public outcry, the KPA said they would pause the policy while they investigate the business communities’ concerns. But while the business community was able to get a temporary reprieve, many are concerned that the Director General will reinstate it at any time.

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

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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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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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Further international litigation takes aim at #Kuwait over repeated abuses of Marsha Lazareva business investments

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The case against Marsha Lazareva, one of Russia's most successful woman business investors in the Gulf, being prosecuted by the authorities in Kuwait took a new turn this week. Her international lawyers filed a financial damages arbitration claim against the State of Kuwait citing repeated violations of international law, potentially raising further questions about how safe a destination Kuwait remains for foreign investors.

Increasing litigation challenges for Kuwait alleging economic damage and targeting foreigners spending time and money in the country come at a delicate moment when it is undergoing an international process of consultation in order to evaluate MSCI World index market standards and fitness for potential nomination in 2020. Working from Kuwait for more than 13 years, and having been responsible for investing hundreds of millions of dollars in local infrastructure and economic development projects, Ms Lazareva has been imprisoned since May, denied bail and basic rights like family visits and health treatment, she faces the prospect of prolonged incarceration in what her lawyers say is the continued absence of due process.

The notice states that the charges against Ms. Lazareva, a Russian citizen, are part of a coordinated campaign to damage her reputation as a successful business woman and diminish the value of her investments.

It also cites Kuwait for violating a longstanding bilateral investment treaty with Russia: “The Agreement between the Russian Federation and the State of Kuwait on the Encouragement and Mutual Protection of Investments.

An earlier trial last spring conducted by Kuwait's Prosecutor General against her prompted an international outcry by news outlets in the East and West, human rights activists, MEPs and Russian officials in Kuwait and Moscow. They denounced the abuse of process and unfair treatment, including the failure to allow Ms Lazareva to call witnesses or challenge testimony that independent analysts said was biased. 'This case is one of the most outrageous denials of justice committed by a state actor in recent memory,' said Ian A. Laird of Crowell & Moring. 'Fabricated charges, a refusal to consider evidence, and reliance by the Court on the testimony of a single, highly suspect witness have led to Marsha's continued imprisonment under inhumane conditions.'

In her capacity at KGLI, Ms. Lazareva managed the creation of an investment property called The Port Fund, whose investors included the Kuwait Ports Authority (KPA) and the Kuwait Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS). Over its 10-year investment period, in 2017, KGLI was in the process of distributing significant returns from the growth of its Port Fund investments to the limited partners, including the KPA and PIFSS, when $496 million in funds were frozen in a Dubai bank.

In November 2017, Lazareva was arrested and detained for questioning on the orders of the Kuwaiti General Prosecutor’s office. After being held in poor conditions for more than two months, she was temporarily released as part of a $30 million bail agreement, only to be imprisoned again three months later. With minimal access to medical assistance, her imprisonment has resulted in a significant deterioration of her health as well as separation from her son.

“We demand that the Kuwaiti government release Marsha and end its efforts to expropriate the $496 million currently being held in Dubai,” said Mr. Laird. “If Kuwait retaliates against Marsha for exercising her right, under the treaty to bring this arbitration, it will further support her claims and damages.”

The claim seeks the immediate release of Ms. Lazareva, as well as the compensation in the amount of $100 million for damages and losses suffered as a result of Kuwait’s breach of the bilateral investment agreement.

 

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