Lebanon’s president seeks evidence behind US sanctions on son-in-law

The US Treasury Department accused Bassil of being at the “forefront of corruption in Lebanon.” (AFP)
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Updated 07 November 2020

Lebanon’s president seeks evidence behind US sanctions on son-in-law

  • Aoun asked Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister to obtain the evidence and documents
  • The sanctions could complicate efforts by Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri to navigate Lebanon’s sectarian politics

BEIRUT: Following the sanctions that hit Lebanese lawmaker Gebran Bassil, President Michel Aoun has called for proof of the accusations against his son-in-law.

Aoun called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the caretaker government of Charbel Wehbe to make calls to the US Embassy in Lebanon and the Lebanese Embassy in Washington to obtain the documents and evidence that led the US Treasury to accuse Bassil of corruption and impose sanctions against him.

Aoun said the documents must be referred to the Lebanese judiciary to take the necessary measures in the event the accusations turned out to be true.

Leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the president’s son-in-law, Bassil is the first Lebanese politician to be subjected to sanctions under the Magnitsky Act — designed to punish corruption and human rights violations.

The sanctions include seizing the properties and funds of targeted people and those who deal with them (companies, entities and individuals), closing their bank accounts as well as their family members’ accounts, and banning them from entering the US.

Economist Violette Balaa told Arab News: “Bassil will not be the only one. According to my sources at the US administration, a new list will be issued in one or two weeks with names of other top politicians.”

Balaa added: “The sources confirmed that the list will include officials from the FPM, the Future Movement and the Amal Amovement, as well as businessmen, and will be issued by the US Treasury before the new president takes office. The timing was carefully chosen.”

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement: “The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people. Lebanon has long suffered from corruption and economic mismanagement by power brokers who advance their own interests at the expense of the Lebanese people they are supposed to represent.”

Public opinion in Lebanon was divided on the sanctions against Bassil. Activists in the civil movement in Lebanon voiced their support on social media for any sanctions imposed on corrupt officials, while FPM supporters insisted that Bassil was only sanctioned for rejecting US deals to distance himself from Hezbollah and settle Syrian refugees.

The FPM issued a statement on Saturday where it expressed its “total rejection of the sanctions” and called on its supporters, “who are staging spontaneous protests,” not to go anywhere near the US Embassy in Awkar.

The statement called the sanctions “a blatant slander and clear attempt to use the American law to seek revenge from a political leader for refusing to do something that goes against his national convictions, principles, choices.”

The statement stressed that the FPM “will remain free and will not obey any local or foreign instructions, choosing the national unity over satisfying the foreign authorities and standing by any Lebanese national against any attack.”

Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli claimed that Aoun and Bassil knew about the sanctions two weeks before their announcement.

“If the parties concerned had formed a Lebanese government after naming Hariri, this may have helped with canceling these sanctions. But it did not happen,” he said.

Former minister Ghassan Hasbani said: “The sanctions under the Magnitsky Act will not be lifted, as it is a law related to misusing authority and influence and corruption” and doubted that “anyone from the Lebanese Forces Party will be subjected to these sanctions.”

Kataeb’s Deputy President Salim Al-Sayegh said that “a good response to these sanctions would be forming a government of independent technocrats, holding early elections, implementing economic reforms and declaring neutrality.”

As soon as the sanctions against Bassil were announced, Hezbollah declared solidarity with its ally and condemned the decision of the US Treasury, considering it “a purely political decision and a blatant and gross interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs, aiming to force a large Lebanese political team to submit to the US conditions and dictates on Lebanon.”

Former MP Fares Souaid said Bassil “is paying the price for the political choice he made in 2006, by becoming a Hezbollah ally.”

“Bassil has turned from a politician into a mail box between Iran and the US,” he added.

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”