US hits ‘corrupt’ Lebanese political leader Gibran Bassil with sanctions 

US hits ‘corrupt’ Lebanese political leader Gibran Bassil with sanctions 
Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement, and is also a former foreign minister. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 06 November 2020

US hits ‘corrupt’ Lebanese political leader Gibran Bassil with sanctions 

US hits ‘corrupt’ Lebanese political leader Gibran Bassil with sanctions 
  • The US move against Bassil, a former foreign minister, was the latest against political figures in Lebanon
  • In recent months Washington has placed sanctions on several officials linked to Hezbollah

CHICAGO: Lebanese political leader Gibran Bassil has been hit by US sanctions, with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo accusing him of being “notorious for corruption.”

Bassil, who has held various ministerial roles and heads the Free Patriotic Movement, has had his US assets frozen and is barred from entering the country.

Pompeo said Bassil was in violation of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13818, which targets rights abuses and corruption under the 2015 Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act gives the president the power to block US entry and impose property sanctions against any foreign person, or entity, who is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or is engaged in government corruption.

“Bassil has served in multiple high-level posts in the Lebanese government, including as minister of foreign affairs and emigrants, minister of energy and water, and minister of telecommunications,” Pompeo said. “Throughout his government career, Bassil has become notorious for corruption and has been linked to the purchase of influence within Lebanese political circles. While minister of energy, Bassil was involved in approving several projects that would have steered Lebanese government funds to individuals close to him through a group of front companies.”

Pompeo said the action expanded on similar sanctions imposed under Executive Order 13224 on two other former Lebanese officials, including Yusuf Finyanus, who was Lebanon’s minister of transportation and public works, and Ali Hassan Khalil, who previously served as minister of public health and then later as minister of finance.

Finyanus and Khalil “put personal interests and those of Iran-backed Hezbollah ahead of the welfare of the Lebanese people,” Pompeo said. “Through his corrupt activities, Bassil has also undermined good governance and contributed to the prevailing system of corruption and political patronage that plagues Lebanon, which has aided and abetted Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities. Lebanese political leaders should be aware that the time has long passed for them to put aside their own narrow self-interests and instead work for the people of Lebanon.”

Pompeo said he was also strengthening punishments against Bassil by applying two other powerful instruments of US sanctions, including Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94), due to his involvement in significant corruption that blocked Bassil’s travel to the US.

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Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.