Is ten years hard labour the price for being a successful businesswoman in Kuwait? By Helen Jones.

Imagine trying to defend yourself and being told by a judge in a court of law to go and vomit in the back of the room when you say you are feeling sick, writes Helen Jones.

Imagine having to place your faith in a judge who makes it clear your gender and nationality count against you because  are one of the country's most successful foreign business women, running a multibillion dollar international enterprise employing thousands of workers. 

And imagine being sentenced to 10 years hard labour inside a country's most notorious prison built for 2000 inmates while holding 6000, sharing a cell with 7 others, your 4-year-old son waiting to get a chance to see his mother.

This is the real life disaster being lived in a case her London lawyer, Neil Micklethwaite from international firm Brown Rudnick, called “one of the most extraordinary miscarriages of justice I have come across in 30 years”.

Marsha Lazareva, 44, with a UK investment visa backed by significant holdings in Britain, runs KGL Investment out of Kuwait, which over the years has been responsible for attracting and investing billions of dollars in national development projects in the Gulf, which in turn has helped open the market to greater public and private funds. 

She has been in charge since 2007, where KGLI work covers the Middle East and Asia.

Accused of misusing public funds, she denies all claims against her. She was not allowed to show exculpatory documents at her trial, not allowed to call witnesses, not given the chance to challenge her accusers, who repeatedly changed their testimony. Charges against her by the authorities were changed repeatedly.

Her legal team was given just one week to examine 18,000 pages of documents.

She sits in Sulaibiya prison, with no bail, and uncertain if her appeal will be considered.

Lazareva says the message from the court is that it is a crime to be a woman in charge of a thriving business in Kuwait.

Kuwait in recent years has been seen doing more fighting corruption and dealing with human rights abuses, but the latest evaluations by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch show growing violations and portray a country going backwards. Transparency International, for example, scores Kuwait at 39 out of 100.

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