Two Lebanese banks deny ties to Hezbollah lender

Two Lebanese banks deny ties to Hezbollah lender
People walk past a branch of Jammal Trust Bank in Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 30 December 2020

Two Lebanese banks deny ties to Hezbollah lender

Two Lebanese banks deny ties to Hezbollah lender
  • Hackers promise more ‘dumps’ after breaching client database

BEIRUT: Hackers who hit one of Hezbollah’s principal lenders and dumped records of thousands of its customers across Lebanon online have vowed to release further information on other institutions with links to the militant group.

Hundreds of accounts with Al-Qard Al-Hassan (benevolent loan association) have been laid bare by the hacking group, which goes by the name of Spiderz, in recent days, with lists of borrowers and depositors in each branch of the organization published online.

The hack revealed that more than one bank was providing services to Hezbollah through the association, including the Lebanese Canadian Bank and Jammal Trust Bank, both of which were placed on a US sanctions list in 2019.

Two banks mentioned in the hacked accounts, Societe Generale and Byblos Bank, quickly denied any relationship with Al-Qard Al-Hassan.

The hackers released a video clip with information related to the association, including budgets and accounts. An unknown person called on depositors to “withdraw their money” and urged borrowers to “stop paying their instalments.”

Al-Qard Al-Hassan confirmed there had been a breach, which it said was a response to its “qualitative achievements.”

The association acknowledged that it had granted “200,000 loans worth $480 million.”

Al-Qard Al-Hassan is regarded as the financial backbone of Hezbollah. In the past month, the association has come under fire for its network of ATMs in Hezbollah strongholds, and for providing dollar-denominated loans amid Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

Customers can withdraw up to $5,000 at the ATMs.

Many Lebanese accused Hezbollah of creating a parallel economy and a “state within the Lebanese state.”

Former MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, criticized “the arrangements that Hezbollah is making on the ground.”

In an interview this week, he said: “Hezbollah’s Al-Qard Al-Hassan now has an ATM that pays customers $5,000 at a time when Lebanese citizens suffer at the hands of the banks and their money is seized.”

Jumblatt was widely criticized by Hezbollah supporters, who accused him of inciting anger against the association.

The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper said on Wednesday that the association “is not the only one that has been hacked.”

Several institutions “revolving in the orbit of Hezbollah” had been targeted, it said, which could mean the attack was coordinated by external intelligence agencies.

The hack, which started last Saturday, was “massive and programmed,” the newspaper said.

On Wednesday, Jumblatt published a video on Twitter with the comment: “Al-Labwa road (in the northern Bekaa) toward Syria, with 50 diesel and food trucks during the day. Where is the rationing?”

The area where the photos were taken is considered a Hezbollah stronghold.

A security official at one border crossing told Arab News: “These pictures are correct. Al-Labwa is 60 km from the illegal border crossings, and this quantity of diesel far exceeds the area’s need, which means it is being smuggled into Syria in broad daylight.”


Swiss authorities ask Lebanon to cooperate on central bank probe

Swiss authorities ask Lebanon to cooperate on central bank probe
Updated 2 min 4 sec ago

Swiss authorities ask Lebanon to cooperate on central bank probe

Swiss authorities ask Lebanon to cooperate on central bank probe
  • The Swiss attorney general's office said it had requested legal assistance from Lebanon in the context of a probe into "aggravated money laundering"

BEIRUT: Swiss authorities have opened an investigation into money transfers by Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salame, a Lebanese government official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Salame denied any wrongdoing.
"Both the prime minister and the president are in the loop" on the inquiry which is also looking into Salameh's brother and assistant, said the government official, who asked to remain anonymous.
The Swiss attorney general's office said it had requested legal assistance from Lebanon in the context of a probe into "aggravated money laundering" and possible embezzlement tied to the Lebanese central bank.
But in responding to questions from Reuters, it did not say whether Salameh was a suspect and declined further comment.
Lebanon's crippled banking system is at the heart of a financial crisis that erupted in late 2019. Banks have since blocked most transfers abroad and cut access to dollar deposits.
The meltdown has crashed the currency, prompted a sovereign default and doomed at least half the population to poverty.
In response to Reuters questions about local media reports of a European inquiry, Lebanese Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm said she had received a request for cooperation from Swiss judicial authorities and submitted it to the public prosecutor. She did not elaborate.
A statement by Salameh dismissed any allegations about transfers by him, his brother or assistant as "fabrications". He threatened to sue anyone who spreads them with harmful intent.
A former Merrill Lynch banker, Salameh has led Lebanon's central bank, Banque du Liban, since 1993. The collapse of Lebanon's financial system shook his reputation as a pillar of stability, as foreign donors demanded a central bank audit and Salameh turned into a focus of anger for protesters last year.