Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Special 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.”