Lebanese prosecutor opens probe into central bank governor and brother

Lebanese prosecutor opens probe into central bank governor and brother
Lebanese demonstrators carry a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who along with his brother, are being probed over suspected embezzlement of $300 million based on a Swiss legal request. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 April 2021

Lebanese prosecutor opens probe into central bank governor and brother

Lebanese prosecutor opens probe into central bank governor and brother
  • The offices of Salameh's brother Raja had been sealed off, with computers and files confiscated in the course of the investigation
  • Riad Salameh denies any wrongdoing and had no comment when asked by Reuters about the investigation

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public prosecutor has launched an investigation into central bank governor Riad Salameh, a judicial source said Friday.
The probe follows a Swiss legal request alleging that over $300 million had been embezzled from the bank through a company owned by Salameh’s brother.
The senior judicial source told Reuters the offices of Salameh’s younger brother Raja had been sealed off, with computers and files confiscated in the course of the investigation. The public prosecutor had no comment.
Riad Salameh, who denies any wrongdoing, had no comment when asked by Reuters about the opening of the investigation, the sealing of his brother’s office and the confiscation of the files.
The central bank also declined to comment, or to provide contact details for Raja Salameh, and Reuters was not immediately able to ask him for comment.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said in January that it had requested legal assistance from Lebanon in investigating “aggravated money laundering” and possible embezzlement relating to the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban.
The Swiss request, seen by Reuters, alleges that Forry Associates, a company owned by Raja Salameh with a bank account in Switzerland that took commission on sales of Lebanese Eurobonds and Treasury bills, was paid $326 million by the central bank between 2002 and 2014 in transactions labelled as fees and commissions.
Most of the payments to Forry were then transferred to an account in Raja Salameh’s name.
More than $7 million were also transferred from Forry Associates between 2008 and 2012 to an account in Riad Salameh’s name, the document said.
Reuters was unable to find any contact details for Forry Associates.
The Swiss attorney general’s office had no comment about the content of the legal request other than repeating its statement from January. It has not said whether Riad Salameh is a suspect.
A Lebanese government official told Reuters in January that Swiss authorities were investigating money transfers by Riad Salameh and also looking into his brother and assistant. Salameh said any allegations about such transfers were “fabrications.”
Salameh said in a statement to the public prosecutor in January that he had answered questions sent on behalf of the Swiss and “asserted to him that any transfers were not made from the Lebanese central bank’s accounts.”
Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat sent initial findings to Swiss authorities in February, state media said.
No further details about the case have been officially announced by Swiss authorities since then.
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 deposits as dollars grew scarce.
The meltdown has crashed the currency, prompted a sovereign default and doomed at least half the population to poverty.
The Swiss investigation is one of several under way or being planned in Europe that target officials in Lebanon’s financial sector and its broader political class.


Israeli strikes kill 33, topple buildings in Gaza City

Israeli strikes kill 33, topple buildings in Gaza City
Updated 25 min 47 sec ago

Israeli strikes kill 33, topple buildings in Gaza City

Israeli strikes kill 33, topple buildings in Gaza City
  • The Gaza Health Ministry said 10 women and eight children were among those killed
  • Earlier, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader in a separate strike

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 33 people Sunday, medics said, making it the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out between Israel and the territory's militant Hamas rulers nearly a week ago.
A rescuer could be seen shouting into a hole in the rubble. “Can you hear me?” he called out. “Are you OK?” Minutes later, first responders managed to pull a survivor out and carried him off on an orange stretcher. The Gaza Health Ministry said 12 women and eight children were among those killed, with another 50 people wounded in the attack.
Earlier, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.
Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators try to broker a cease-fire. But targeting the group's leaders could hinder those efforts. A US diplomat is in the region to try to de-escalate tensions, and the UN Security Council is set to meet Sunday.
The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinian protests and clashes with police broke out in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focal point of clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint that is located on a hilltop compound that is revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.
The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
At least 181 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 52 children and 31 women, with 1,225 wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.
The military said Sunday it struck Sinwar's home and that of his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. On Saturday it destroyed the home of Khalil Al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch.
Hamas’ upper echelon has gone into hiding in Gaza, and it is unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes. Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which provide political support to the group.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed since the fighting broke out Monday. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”
An Egyptian diplomat said Israel’s targeting of Hamas political leaders would complicate cease-fire efforts. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations, said Cairo is working to broker an end to the fighting.
The Egyptian diplomat said the destruction of Hamas’ rocket capabilities would require a ground invasion that would “inflame the whole region.” Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago, has threatened to “suspend” cooperation in various fields, the official said, without elaborating.
Hamas and other militant groups have fired some 2,900 rockets into Israel. The military said 450 of the rockets had fallen short or misfired, while Israeli air defenses intercepted 1,150.
The interception rate appeared to have significantly dropped since the start of the conflict, when Israel said 90% were intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel has meanwhile carried out hundreds of airstrikes across impoverished Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Israel has leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they contain Hamas military infrastructure. On Saturday, Israel bombed the 12-story al-Jalaa Building, where the office of The Associated Press was located. The building also housed the TV network Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, along with several floors of apartments.
“The campaign will continue as long as it is required,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. He alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building.
Israel routinely cites a Hamas presence as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also has accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to back up the claims.
The AP has operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. During those conflicts as well as the current one, the news agency’s cameras from its top floor office and roof terrace offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.
“We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
In the afternoon, the military called the building’s owner and warned a strike would come within an hour. AP staffers and other occupants evacuated safely. Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, bringing it crashing down in a giant cloud of dust.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified."
He said the AP was seeking information from the Israeli government and was engaged with the US State Department to learn more.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later spoke by phone with Pruitt, offering his support for independent journalists and media organizations, and the White House said it had communicated directly with Israel to urge safety for journalists.
The Biden administration has affirmed its support for Israel while working to de-escalate the crisis. US diplomat Hady Amr is in the region as part of efforts to broker a truce.


Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians
Updated 59 min 5 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians
  • ‘We condemn Israeli takeover of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem’
  • Pope Francis calls for an end to the conflict in Israel and Gaza

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has accused Israel of committing flagrant violations against the Palestinians.

“Israel is committing flagrant violations against the Palestinians. We condemn Israeli takeover of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem,” Prince Faisal said in his opening speech during the emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“East Jerusalem is a Palestinian land that we do not accept harm to it,” he said.

Prince Faisal likewise called on the “international community to shoulder its responsibilities in front of Israel’s violations.”

WATCH THE ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION EMERGENCY MEETING:


“The international community must intervene urgently to put an end to Israeli practices,” Prince Faisal said.

The Saudi foreign minister condemned what he called the violation of the sanctity of Islamic holy sites and “forcible” eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

He called on the international community to carry out its responsibility toward ending this “dangerous escalation,” to act urgently to halt military operations and to revive peace negotiations based on a two-state solution.

Emirati and Bahraini ministers at the virtual gathering of the 57-member OIC called for a ceasefire and stressed the importance of preserving the identity of Jerusalem, which contains sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“De-escalation and the highest degree of restraint are important to avoid dragging the region to new levels of instability,” said UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy.

Pope Francis called on Sunday for an end to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, saying the deaths of so many innocent people in recent days, including children, was unacceptable.

“I appeal for calm, and for those responsible to end the clamor of weapons and to take the path of peace,” he said in a weekly address to faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

“Many innocent people have died, amongst them there are also children. This is terrible. Unacceptable. Their death is a sign that (people) don’t want to build a future, but destroy it ... I wonder where hatred and revenge will lead?”

 

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The pre-dawn attacks in the center of Gaza City brought the death toll in Gaza to 174, including 47 children, health officials said. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet later on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.

Palestine’s foreign affairs minister Riyad Al-Maliki, speaking during the meeting, said that Israel’s practices were an ‘attack on Arabs, Muslims and international norms.’

“Palestinian people are subjected to Israeli apartheid… and the brutal bombing caused the displacement of more than 10,000 citizens from their homes in Gaza” Al-Maliki said.

“We must impose economic and political sanctions on Israel.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took a similarly hard line.

“Israel alone is responsible for the recent escalation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Cavusoglu said. “Our warnings to Israel last week went unheeded.”

 

- with Reuters


Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip
Updated 16 May 2021

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip
  • Yahya Sinwar is the Islamist movement’s de facto leader in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli air strikes hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said Sunday, but without saying if he was killed.
“Among the targets struck are the residences of Yahya Sinwar, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau in Gaza, as well as of his brother, Muhammad Sinwar, Head of Logistics and Manpower for Hamas,” Israel’s army said in a statement, releasing a video showing plumes of smoke and intense damage.
“Both residences served as military infrastructure for the Hamas terror organization.”
Witnesses confirmed to AFP a strike had hit Sinwar’s house.
Sinwar, a former commander of Hamas’s military branch, served more than two decades in an Israeli jail before he was released in 2011 as a part of a prisoner exchange.
First elected as the head of Hamas’s political wing in Gaza in 2017, he was re-elected in March, extending his tenure as the Islamist movement’s de facto leader in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
Hamas overall chief Ismail Haniyeh is currently based in Qatar.
The army said it had also carried out strikes targeting Hamas tunnel systems.
As of 07:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) Sunday, Israel’s army said that Palestinian militants in Gaza had fired some 2,900 rockets toward Israel.
The army said 450 rockets fell short inside Gaza, while Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted approximately 1,150 rockets.


Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution
Updated 16 May 2021

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution
  • All existing travel restrictions of passengers coming from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are extended until May 31

DUBAI: The Philippines has started barring the entry of travelers from Oman and the United Arab Emirates as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, particularly the COVID-19 variant from India.

“All existing travel restrictions of passengers coming from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are extended until 2359H of May 31, 2021,” Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said in a statement.

“The Department of Transportation should ensure that airlines are directed not to allow the boarding of passengers who are prohibited from entering the country pursuant to travel restrictions imposed by the Office of the President and IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) resolutions except if they are part of the repatriation efforts of the national government,” Roque added.

The Philippines on Saturday reported 10 new COVID-19 cases of the so-called ‘double mutant’ variant first detected in India, bringing the total to 12. The India coronavirus variant carries two mutations, E484Q and L425R.

Experts say the E484Q mutation is similar to the E484K mutation or the ‘escape mutation’ which helps the virus gets past the body’s immune system, while L452R is found to be an efficient spreader of the coronavirus.

The first two reported cases were overseas Filipino workers who separately arrived from Oman and the UAE, which prompted Philippine authorities to consequently impose the travel ban until the end of the month.

Both Gulf countries host a huge community of Filipino expatriate workers, and the Philippine government has implemented measures to ensure those returning to the country follow stringent protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.


As Palestinians observe ‘Nakba’ worldwide, Israeli forces go on rampage in Gaza

People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
Updated 16 May 2021

As Palestinians observe ‘Nakba’ worldwide, Israeli forces go on rampage in Gaza

People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
  • Saudi foreign minister calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • Protesters march in major North American, European cities in support of the Palestinian cause

GAZA CITY/LONDON/NEW YORK: Palestinians on Saturday marked the anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” when more than 700,000 were driven from their homes to establish the state of Israel in 1948.

Israel observed the day by killing two women and eight children from one family in an airstrike on a refugee camp.

Three heavy missiles also destroyed the 12-story Al-Jala’a Tower in Gaza City, which housed the offices of media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera, and bombed the home of Khalil Al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas leader.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed at least 139 people, including 39 children and 22 women.

 

 

Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and killed eight people, the latest on Saturday when a man died in a rocket strike on the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

There was outrage over the attack on the AP building, which also contained residential apartments. The Israeli military said Hamas was operating inside the building, but offered no evidence.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP chief executive Gary Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified.”

Earlier, an Israeli air raid on the densely populated Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City killed 10 Palestinians from one family, Israel’s deadliest single strike of the conflict.

Palestinians burn an Israeli flag in the occupied-West Bank town of Bethlehem on May 15,2021, as they commemorate the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)

Missiles targeted the three-story home of Alaa Abu Hatab, 35, killing his wife, four of his five children, his sister, and four of her five children. A five-month-old baby survived, along with Abu Hatab’s daughter, who is in intensive care.

Abu Hatab’s brother-in-law Muhammad Al-Hadidi wept as he told Arab News how his children had insisted on spending the night at their uncle’s house to play with their cousins.

“I heard the sound of the bombing, but I did not know it was the building my wife and children were in. I received a call to tell me Abu Hatab’s house was targeted. I went quickly, to find all my children with my wife, under the rubble.”

Opinion

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As Israeli airstrikes continued, Heba Al-Attar, 45, told Arab News: “The feeling I have is, when will I be killed? When will our house be destroyed? How will my three children live without me if they survive? I feel scared every day, I can’t sleep at night.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called on Saturday for an immediate ceasefire. They urged “the international community to confront the aggressive Israeli practices against the brotherly Palestinian people.”

Tens of thousands march

As Israeli forces stepped up the bombardment of Gaza, tens of thousands of protesters marched in major European cities including London, Berlin, Madrid and Paris in support of the Palestinian cause.

In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli embassy.

 

 

Packed crowds stretched all along Kensington High Street where the embassy is located.

“This time is different,” Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot told the demonstrators.

“This time we will not be denied any more. We are united. We have had enough of oppression.”

Simon Makepace, a 61-year-old accountant told AFP he had joined the protests because “the whole world should be doing something about it, including this country.”


Click here to read our previous stories about the Nakba 



'Palestine will be free'

In cities across North America, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators also called for an end to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The protests were held on the anniversary of Nakba Day, or “catastrophe,” that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during Israel’s creation in 1947-1948.

Gatherings to show solidarity with Palestinians on the anniversary of Nakba Day, took place in cities including New York, Boston, Washington, Montreal and Dearborn, Michigan.

Several Jewish people attended, carrying placards that said “Not in my name” and “Solidarity with Palestine” as the protesters took over a street in the area which has a large Arab population.

Protesters and activists gather near the Washington Monument in the US capital to voice their anger at Israeli military action in Gaza that has left many civilians dead. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

“I’m here because I want a Palestinian life to equal an Israeli life and today it doesn’t,” said 35-year-old Emraan Khan, a corporate strategist from Manhattan, as he waved a Palestinian flag.

“When you have a nuclear-armed state and another state of villagers with rocks it is clear who is to blame,” he added.

Alison Zambrano, a 20-year-old student, traveled from neighboring Connecticut for the demo.

“Palestinians have the right to live freely and children in Gaza should not be being killed,” she told AFP.

Mashhour Ahmad, a 73-year-old Palestinian who has lived in New York for 50 years, said “don’t blame the victim for the aggression.”

 

 

“I’m telling Mr. Biden and his cabinet to stop supporting the killing. Support the victims, stop the oppression.

“The violence committed by the Israeli army recently is genocide,” he added, raising a poster above his head that said “Free Palestine, End the occupation.”

President Joe Biden spoke separately Saturday with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, expressing his “grave concern” over six days of violence that has left scores dead or wounded.

He expressed Washington’s “strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the White House said.

People in Montreal attend a demonstration on May 15, 2021, to denounce Israel's military actions in the Palestinian territories. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Throngs of people gathered in Copley Square in Boston, while a few hundred rallied on the Washington Monument grounds in the US capital.

Several thousand demonstrated in Montreal, Canada, calling for “the liberation of Palestine.”

Protesters also denounced “war crimes” committed by Israel in Gaza and carried placards accusing Israel of violating international law during the protest in the center of the Canadian city.

(With AFP)

Decoder

What is the Nakba?

The Nakba, or "catastrophe", is commemorated by Arabs worldwide as the day more than 710,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their villages and cities by rampaging Israeli Zionist forces in 1948. Palestinian society has never been the same since, with many still living until today in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.