US sanctions Lebanese former ministers for corruption, supporting Hezbollah

Former Lebanese government ministers Yusuf Finyanus (left) and Ali Hassan Khalil have been sanctioned by the US for helping Hezbollah. (NNA/AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2020

US sanctions Lebanese former ministers for corruption, supporting Hezbollah

  • Ali Hassan Khalil and Youssef Fenianos will have assets frozen, financial dealings with them penalized

BEIRUT: The US imposed sanctions on Tuesday on two former Lebanese government ministers for corruption and supporting Hezbollah.
The sanctions targeted former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former transport minister Youssef Fenianos.

Khalil is a senior official in the Amal group headed by parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri. Fenianos is a member of the Christian Marada group allied with Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. Their assets in the US will be blocked and any financial dealings with them are subject to criminal penalties.
The US said Khalil directed funds to Hezbollah institutions to evade US sanctions, and Fenianos received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from Hezbollah in return for political favors.

Washington “will use all available authorities to promote accountability for Lebanese leaders who have failed their people,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“Hezbollah depends on Lebanon's corrupt political system for survival. Anyone helping to advance Hezbollah’s political or economic interests is further eroding what remains of effective governance and facilitating financing for terrorism.”

Meanwhile troops were deployed in the Tariq Al-Jadida area of Beirut on Tuesday to prevent further violence at the funeral of a man killed in a shoot-out the night before.

The man died and two others were injured in fighting between rival groups armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi and Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian met on Tuesday to discuss the incident, and both condemned the violence.

“The armed riot is unacceptable,” Fahmi said. “People are fed up with innocent civilians being killed and injured in disputes between individuals who hide behind their weapons.”

Derian described the clashes as “fighting among brothers.”

“Disputes cannot be solved with weapons,” he said. “Enough fighting. We hope our children will return to their senses.” 

Khalil, from the southern town of Khiam, joined Amal when he was a law student in the 1980s and is considered to be Nabih Berri’s right-hand man. He was first elected to parliament in 1996 for a Shiite seat in Marjayoun-Hasbaya, and re-elected in the 2000, 2005 and 2009 elections.

He was agriculture minister in the government of Rafik Hariri, and in later administrations became health minister and finance minister. During the street protests in Lebanon that began last October, information published about Khalil’s personal wealth surprised many who knew him.

Fenianos is part of the Marada movement headed by former minister Suleiman Franjieh, and is said to form a channel of communication and coordination between Hezbollah and the Future Movement. He has previously defended against Hezbollah against accusations of using Beirut airport for illegal purposes. 

Arab News last month reported a surge in smuggling personal weapons from Syria as confidence in the Lebanese state evaporates amid a political vacuum and economic collapse.

Many Lebanese are also taking to flimsy boats and fleeing to Cyprus, 90 km across the Mediterranean. Cyprusrepatriated 90 Lebanese migrants to Tripoli on Tuesday, some of them women and children, after they attempted to enter the island illegally.

“At least five boats carrying more than 150 migrants were stopped,” Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said. “Cyprus is on alert.” Cypriot officials will visit Lebanon this week to discuss the problem.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”