Trump-connected lobbyists work to free Russian businesswoman jailed in Kuwait

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Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is one of 13 lobbyists working to free a Russian businesswoman jailed in Kuwait. (Jim Spellman/WireImage)

The lobbying effort to free an influential Russian businesswoman imprisoned in Kuwait continues to add firepower. Trump-connected lobbying firm Ballard Partners recently joined four other firms, bringing the total to 13 lobbyists working on the case.

They’re representing KGL Investment Co., whose CEO and vice-chairwoman Marsha Lazareva was arrested and jailed by Kuwaiti officials for allegedly misusing public funds.

Lazareva was found guilty by Kuwaiti courts in May 2018 of assisting in the embezzlement of money from the Kuwait Port Authority to KGL. Courts sentenced her to 10 years of hard labor. She and another defendant also were fined $73 million. The court case originated over accusations that she acted as a spy for a foreign country, though the charges were later changed to embezzlement. KGL is an international venture capital and private equity firm with its headquarters in Kuwait.

Lazareva’s case has attracted the attention of prominent supporters, including Neil Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush. In an op-ed for the Washington Times, Bush called the trial and resulting imprisonment “human rights abuses” and advocated for Congress to “sanction the individuals responsible.”

In the April 25 article, Bush said he made a trip to Kuwait to attend one of Lazareva’s hearings with former U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), now policy director at Brownstein, Hyatt, and registered lobbyist and former Ambassador James Nicholson.

Another op-ed written by Mark Williams, president and CEO of KGL Investment Asia and investment director of the Port Fund, decried the jailing of Lazareva as a “politically motivated smear campaign.” It called on the Trump administration to use the Magnitsky Act to “to push Dubai and Kuwait to hold bad actors accountable and restore the faith and confidence of American and international investors in the Gulf.”    

In a recent lobbying registration, Ballard Partners reported that Brian Ballard, a Trump fundraiser with close White House ties; Pam Bondi, former Florida attorney general and Trump transition team member; Justin Sayfie, who has longtime Trump connections; and “revolving door” member Sylvester Lukis, all will represent KGL on “immigration policy and process” matters.

Ballard’s group is only the latest to sign onto the issue.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh signed on as the first lobbyist to represent KGL on “issues related to potential Global Magnitsky Act violations and imprisonment”, according to a lobbying disclosure filed at the end of March. Freeh headed FBI investigations into the Unabomber and the Waco standoff, among others, and led the independent investigation into Penn State’s child sexual abuse scandal.

The second firm to join the effort on April 12 was Crowell & Moring, which added five lobbyists with the goal of working on “issues related to Global Magnitsky Act violations and imprisonment.” That team of lobbyists includes three revolving door members — James Flood, former Justice Department attorney and counsel to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Scott Douglas, one-time finance director for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Byron Brown, a former deputy chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and senior counsel to several congressional members.

Also with Crowell & Moring is Victoria Toensing, who has served as counsel for Lazareva since September 2018. One day after the press release announcing her hire as Lazareva’s lawyer, Toensing wrote an opinion piece for the conservative Daily Caller website blasting Kuwait for “ruthless intimidation tactics” and “bizarre and unfounded actions.” At the end of the piece is the line “Victoria Toensing is a founding partner in the Washington law firm diGenova & Toensing, LLP.” But it doesn’t include a disclaimer that Toensing is employed as Lazareva’s counsel.

Toensing and her husband, Joe diGenova, also have connections to President Donald Trump. DiGenova and Toensing were hired as part of Trump’s Mueller investigation legal team. The hiring was rescinded several days later over concerns of conflict of interest because of the couple’s outspokenness in the media defending the president.

Toensing represents several Trump world members including Sam Clovis, former Trump campaign co-chairman; Erik Prince, Trump advisor and founder of the private military firm Blackwater; and Mark Corallo, former spokesman for the Trump legal team.   

Two more well-connected lobbyists from Brownstein, Hyatt also began representing KGL in mid-April. R. James Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs (2005-2007), Ambassador to the Vatican (2001-2005) and chairman of the RNC (1997-2001), and Douglas Maguire, a senior policy advisor with experience at international aid agencies, also are representing KGL regarding the Global Magnitsky Act.

Additionally, Randa Fahmy, former associate deputy energy secretary, began representing the firm on April 25.

Contact information for Fahmy was unavailable and the other firms did not return requests for comment.

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