Lebanon’s money dealers agree to exchange limits

Lebanon’s licensed money changers returned to work on Wednesday after a month-long strike. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Lebanon’s money dealers agree to exchange limits

  • In late April, Lebanon’s central bank said foreign currency dealers could not sell US dollars for more than 3,200 pounds
  • Ninety foreign currency dealers closed by authorities for breaking exchange rate rules were allowed to reopen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s licensed money changers returned to work on Wednesday after a month-long strike, saying they will adhere to price ceilings for the buying and selling of US dollars.

Money dealers agreed to buy US dollars for a minimum of 3,950 Lebanese pounds and sell at a top rate of 4,000 pounds.

The pound has fallen by about 60 percent from the official exchange rate of 1,507.5 pounds since October, with US dollars becoming increasingly scarce.

In late April, Lebanon’s central bank said foreign currency dealers could not sell US dollars for more than 3,200 pounds.

Financial authorities also arrested several money dealers, including Mahmoud Murad, head of the Syndicate of Money Changers, and his deputy, Elias Sorour, on charges of exchange rate manipulation.

Ninety foreign currency dealers closed by authorities for breaking exchange rate rules were allowed to reopen on Wednesday.

Murad, who was released several days ago, told Arab News that “the first working day after the strike was cautious and the market was confused.”

He said people were reluctant to sell or buy US dollars because of confusion over an exchange rate mechanism agreed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Bank of Lebanon chief Riad Salameh.

The mechanism requires compliance with a central bank circular, which fixes the exchange rate at 3,200 Lebanese pounds, with a gradual decline in value in coming days.

Murad said: “Money changers have adhered to the specified price ceiling so far, and we hope that things will stabilize and the dollar will return to its official price of 1,507 Lebanese pounds, especially since the country needs cash stability and there is anger on the streets.”

However, activists warned of further protests and unrest, saying the government had failed to consider people’s needs in reform plans outlined during talks with the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday.

Jad Lezeik, of the Li Haqqi (For my rights) movement, told Arab News: “We are preparing to take to the streets in Beirut on Saturday to complete the goals of our Oct. 17, 2019, uprising.

“People should be able to provide food, housing and education for their children. The government has failed to address these needs. Its reform plan is hostile to the people,” he said.

Lebanese people “are afraid of the unknown future that awaits them,” Lezeik said.

Activist groups have returned to the streets in recent days, with some staging sit-ins outside the homes of officials and ministers.

With the next phase of the country’s mobilization to be decided on Thursday, Lebanon’s leaders, including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Diab, told UN Security Council envoys that the government will agree to extend the UNIFIL forces’ mandate “without modifying their numbers and tasks.”

Aoun asked UNIFIL to strengthen its partnership with the Lebanese army, saying that “limited incidents that occurred between groups of UNIFIL and some citizens in southern villages do not reflect any negative climate against UNIFIL forces.”

US envoy to Lebanon Dorothy Chia told the meeting that UNIFIL soldiers are present to implement Resolution 1701 in full.

“I do not think we can say that the full implementation of this decision has taken place. So we need to consider increasing the effectiveness of UNIFIL to its maximum extent,” she said.

 


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.