Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
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Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

HIGHLIGHT

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
Updated 22 January 2022

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
  • Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent
  • The Sultanate suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity

DUBAI: Oman has updated its coronavirus precautionary measures effective for two weeks starting on Jan. 23 due to a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections.
Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent, state news agency ONA reported.
The government has further suspended all conferences and exhibitions. Congregational activities have also been halted and organizers have been advised to hold them without audiences. Participants and organizers would now also be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The Sultanate further suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity.
The country’s Supreme Committee has called on all public establishments to stick to the measures set for their businesses, including operating at a capacity of 50 percent, requiring proofs of vaccination for customers, observing physical distancing and wearing of face masks.
Oman shifted to distance learning for all schools earlier this month for four weeks as a precaution against the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.


US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
Updated 22 January 2022

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
  • Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on three Lebanese nationals and 10 companies it said were part of an international Hezbollah network, accusing them of evading sanctions on the powerful group with an armed militia that is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Washington.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it designated Adnan Ayad, who it said was a Hezbollah member and businessman, as well as other members of an international network of facilitators and companies connected to him and his business partner, Adel Diab, who was designated by Washington on Tuesday.
Friday’s move comes after the United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three businessmen, including Diab, with ties to Hezbollah, saying their activity as financial facilitators for the Iran-backed group was exploiting Lebanon’s economic resources at a time of crisis for that country.
“Treasury is committed to disrupting Hizballah’s illicit activity and attempts to evade sanctions through business networks while the group doubles down on corrupt patronage networks in Lebanon,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement on Friday.
Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt. Its currency plunged to a new low last week, and swaths of the country have been driven into poverty.
Lebanon’s Cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported on Monday, after Hezbollah and another group, Amal, ended their boycott of the Cabinet over the weekend.
The two groups, which back several ministers, had been boycotting the Cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020.


Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen
Updated 22 January 2022

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen
  • Coalition blames the Iran-backed Houthi militia for spreading misinformation

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said media reports about it targeting a detention center in Saada are false.
The coalition blamed the Iran-backed Houthi militia for spreading misinformation, saying it fits the group’s usual deceptive approach.
The Coalition’s Joint Forces Command will brief the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the facts and details, Al Ekhbariya reported early on Saturday.


Lebanese elections: Former PM Hariri in key meetings

Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Lebanese elections: Former PM Hariri in key meetings

Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
  • Former MP and Vice-President of the Future Movement Mustapha Allouch told Arab News: “So far, we haven’t been informed of Hariri’s decision and all the other matters affiliated to that decision”

BEIRUT: Just four people have submitted their candidacies for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections planned for May since the nomination process opened on Jan. 10.
The next house of representatives will elect a new president in October, five months after the parliamentary elections.
Some 250,000 Lebanese expats have registered abroad to vote in the upcoming elections to choose 128 MPs.
Only one-third of them registered for the previous elections, reflecting enthusiasm for change.
Zeina Helou, an expert in local affairs, told Arab News that those who submitted their candidacies belonged to the opposition.
Helou said there was a delay in the process because opposition figures had been questioning the possibility of parliamentary elections going ahead.
There were further delays due to the electoral law requiring candidates to join electoral lists to qualify as a contestant.

FASTFACT

The parliamentary elections are expected to be heated as the Lebanese people are motivated for political upheaval in a system accused of corruption.

Candidates are also required to deposit LBP30 million ($19,800), which is far higher than the LBP8 million deposit for previous parliamentary elections.
Helou said that things might take shape when registration of the candidates’ lists begins, with the deadline set between Mar. 16 and April 4.
Amid the low candidacy numbers, the ruling political forces were still studying the possibility of maintaining their electoral allies, with several alliances broken up as a result of the political crisis.
The mystery surrounding the position of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who returned to Beirut on Thursday morning, has increased their frustration.
He left Lebanon last June following his refusal to form a government.
Hariri met with the members of his bloc, with reports indicating that he will not nominate himself for the upcoming elections, leaving his bloc’s MPs the choice to participate or not.
Former MP and Vice-President of the Future Movement Mustapha Allouch told Arab News: “So far, we haven’t been informed of Hariri’s decision and all the other matters affiliated to that decision.”
Allouch said Hariri was holding several meetings and the picture might be clearer next week.
The political rumor mill has suggested that Hariri’s political allies, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, will seek to convince him to run for elections or to let the Future Movement participate, as their absence will leave a void on the Sunni scene.
There are mounting fears regarding Sunni representation as influential figures are reluctant to run for elections. Former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced on Thursday that he was unwilling to run for parliament.  Nazih Njeim, a member of the Future Movement, revealed that a number of the party’s MPs will not run for elections if Hariri does not put himself forward.
He said: “When the Sunni component is not doing well, this reflects badly on the country.”
Public affairs expert Dr. Walid Fakhreddin said: “Hariri’s decision not to run for elections seems to be settled, knowing that he partly bears responsibility for the collapse of the country and specifically for the settlement that brought about Michel Aoun as the president.”
He added that other political forces in power were also hit at the core.
“The Free Patriotic Movement is destroyed at the grassroots level, and at the internal level, there will be fights between rivals of the same party on the same seat. The Progressive Socialist Party will re-nominate its deputies.”
He said: “We can also say while the popularity of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement was affected in some districts, it is no longer impossible to break it in other districts.
“We will witness a confrontation between the ruling class and the opposition.
“The ruling parties will fight each other, and the opposition may have more than a list in a few districts.”


Sudanese judges, US denounce deadly crackdowns on protests

Young women and men take to the streets of Khartoum to protest against the killings of dozens in a crackdown since last year’s military coup. (AFP)
Young women and men take to the streets of Khartoum to protest against the killings of dozens in a crackdown since last year’s military coup. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2022

Sudanese judges, US denounce deadly crackdowns on protests

Young women and men take to the streets of Khartoum to protest against the killings of dozens in a crackdown since last year’s military coup. (AFP)
  • Military leader Gen. Al-Burhan announces appointment of 15 Cabinet ministers amid call for dialogue

KHARTOUM: Sudanese head of judiciary and judges condemned violence against anti-military protesters in a rare public statement, while the US said it would consider unspecified steps against those holding up efforts to resolve Sudan’s political crisis.

At least 72 civilians have died and more than 2,000 have been injured as security forces have cracked down on frequent demonstrations since a military takeover on Oct. 25, according to medics aligned with the protest movement.
Angered by the killing of seven civilians earlier this week, protesters took to the streets once more on Thursday in eastern Khartoum and other locations across Sudan.
Military leaders have said that the right to peaceful protest is protected and have commissioned investigations into the bloodshed.
The violence has deepened the deadlock between pro-democracy groups and the military leadership.
In a statement, Sudan’s ruling council affirmed the need for national dialogue, a technocratic Cabinet, and adjustments to a transitional constitutional document negotiated after the ousting of former leader Omar Bashir in a 2019 uprising.
The document formed the basis for a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians that was halted by the coup.

BACKGROUND

Military leaders have said that the right to peaceful protest is protected and have commissioned investigations into the bloodshed.

After a failed bid by former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to salvage some civilian control following the coup, the UN has been trying to facilitate dialogue between opposing factions.
Late on Thursday, military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan announced the appointment of 15 Cabinet ministers, most of whom had been promoted to acting roles by Hamdok.
No prime minister or defense or interior ministers were named.
The coup drew condemnation from Western powers that largely froze badly needed economic assistance to Sudan.
That assistance would only be restarted if violence ended and a civilian-led government was restored, visiting US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee and newly appointed special envoy David Satterfield said.
Condemning the use of force on protesters, they “made clear the United States will consider measures to hold accountable those responsible for failure to move forward” with a political transition and an end to violence, a US statement said.
A statement from 55 Sudanese judges to the judiciary chief said military leaders had “violated agreements and covenants since the Oct. 25 coup, as they have carried out the most heinous violations against defenseless protesters.”
They called for an end to the violence and a criminal investigation.
In response, the head of the judiciary said in a statement that the ruling sovereign council must do the utmost to prevent violations.
“We in the judiciary affirm that we will not hesitate to take the measures we have at hand to protect the lives and constitutional rights of citizens,” the statement said.
Separately, more than 100 prosecutors announced they would stop work from Thursday to call for security forces to cease violations and lift a state of emergency. They said prosecutors had been unable to carry out their legal duty to accompany police to protests and determine the acceptable use of force.
It is unusual for Sudan’s judges and prosecutors to make public statements about the conduct of the security forces.
Asked for comment, acting Information Ministry Minister Nasreldin Ahmed noted that Gen. Al-Burhan had ordered an investigation into protester deaths on Monday and a probe was underway.
Protesters in the capital could be seen pulling up paving and barricading a main road and several side streets.
One, a student named Taysir, said they were doing so to protect themselves from security forces.
She dismissed Gen. Al-Burhan’s moves to appoint a caretaker Cabinet.
“He doesn’t want to give up, but we don’t want to give up either,” said another protester, who gave her name as Muzan.