Lebanese judge issues travel ban for central bank governor

Lebanese judge issues travel ban for central bank governor
A Lebanese judge issued Tuesday a travel ban for Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh following a corruption lawsuit accusing him of embezzlement and dereliction of duties in the country’s ongoing financial meltdown. (AP)
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Updated 11 January 2022

Lebanese judge issues travel ban for central bank governor

Lebanese judge issues travel ban for central bank governor
  • The decision was the first judicial action taken by authorities in Lebanon against Riad Salameh
  • The travel ban was issued by Ghada Aoun, an investigating judge for the Mount Lebanon district

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge Tuesday issued a travel ban for the country’s central bank governor, state-run National News Agency and a lawyer said.
The move comes after a corruption lawsuit accused him of embezzlement and dereliction of duty during the country’s financial meltdown.
The decision was the first judicial action taken by authorities in Lebanon against Riad Salameh, who is being investigated in several countries abroad for potential money laundering.
It was not immediately clear if the ban will be implemented. Salameh, 71, has been in the post for nearly three decades and enjoys backing from most politicians, including the country’s prime minister, despite the country’s devastating economic crisis and banking sector collapse.
The travel ban was issued by Ghada Aoun, an investigating judge for the Mount Lebanon district, based on an investigation into a case filed by lawyers of an anti-corruption group known as the People Want to Reform the Regime.
Aoun’s decision came as the value of the Lebanese pound tumbled to new lows on Tuesday, reaching 33,500 to the US dollar. The pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value since the meltdown began, including nearly 10 percent of its value since the beginning of the year.
Salameh was once touted as the guardian of Lebanon’s monetary stability and praised for steering the country’s finances through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. But he has come under intense scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019, with many experts now questioning his monetary policies.
Haitham Ezzo, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit against Salameh, said the governor violated his official duty to protect the national currency and the banking sector. He said Salameh is also criminally responsible, saying the suit provides new evidence that he abused his position for personal gain.
“We filed a criminal case against him ... and we asked for a number of things starting with a ban on his traveling,” Ezzo said. The second request was to reveal the fate of Lebanon’s huge gold reserves that are worth billions of dollars.
Salameh is being investigated in Switzerland, Luxembourg and France for potential money laundering and embezzlement. Local media reported in recent months that Salameh, his brother and an aide have been involved in illegal businesses, including money transfers abroad despite the informal capital controls imposed at home.
Ezzo said they have evidence that Salameh has rented an apartment in Paris’ Champs Elysee for the central bank at an overvalued price, accusing him of embezzling the difference.
Salameh, who has repeatedly denied making such transfers, said in November that he asked for an audit of transactions and investments during his tenure and the results showed no public money has been misused.
Salameh has said that he was wealthy before he became central bank governor in 1993.
Lebanon’s economic crisis — rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement — has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has witnessed since the 1850s.
“How can I trust a person who said the pound is doing well. How can I trust a person who said the banks are not bankrupt but they really are,” said Ezzo.
Last month, Prime Minister Najib Mikati was asked whether he plans to remove Salameh from the post. Mikati responded: “During wars you don’t change officers.”


EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause
Updated 7 sec ago

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

BRUSSELS: The EU vowed to press Israel on Monday about the treatment of Palestinians, settlement expansions and stalled peace efforts at the first meeting in a decade of a frozen joint council.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process, which is stalled.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid dialed in remotely for the EU-Israel Association Council talks and the country’s traveling delegation was headed by intelligence minister Elazar Stern.

Meetings of the council have been suspended for a decade since Israel ditched them over the EU’s opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank.

The EU has been looking for a fresh start with Israel since right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office in 2021 after 12 years in charge.

“All in all, today is a good occasion to show our determination to have a positive and fruitful relationship with Israel, pushing for peace,” Borrell said. 

Support expressed by Lapid in a speech at the UN for a two-state solution with the Palestinians was “very important,” he added.

“We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace,” Borrell said.

But he said a UN report on the situation in the occupied territories was “worrisome,” as the number of Palestinians reported killed this year reached the highest level since 2007.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is Israel’s firm opposition to EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Well, this is one of the issues in which certainly we disagree,” Borrell said. “For the time being in any case, those (nuclear deal) negotiations are stalled.”


Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated 13 min 13 sec ago

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • Friends of Cancer Patients to offer free screenings across UAE in October
  • Initiative backed by health ministry, private-sector partners

SHARJAH: The Friends of Cancer Patients charity will deliver its Pink Caravan initiative across the UAE in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emirates News Agency reported.

Pink Caravan is a UAE-based scheme that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer and provide facilities for its detection and treatment.

Throughout October, mobile clinics will offer people access to free screenings and consultations with experts.

With support from the Ministry of Health and Prevention the initiative will also host a series of public activities on the subject with help from partners MSD, Pfizer, Adnoc, Amit Group and others.

Ashraf Mallak, MSD’s managing director for the GCC, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally and in the UAE today. With patients being at the heart of our efforts, we are committed to improving long-term disease control and survival for patients.”

He added that the company had developed an immuno-oncology therapy and had 1,300 clinical trials underway studying more than 30 tumor types.

“This year, we are joining forces with FOCP’s Pink Caravan to achieve a greater impact in the UAE. We look forward to a successful awareness campaign and encourage women to avail themselves of the screenings,” Mallak said.

FOCP Chairman Sawsan Jafar said: “Last year, our Pink Caravan initiative delivered thousands of free breast health checkups, including 2,197 clinical breast examinations, 1,019 mammograms and 208 ultrasound tests.

“This testifies to both the generosity and support extended by our sponsors and partners as well as the willingness of members of the UAE community to actively participate in securing their own health and well-being.”

He added: “We are fortunate to have received the support of so many private and public sector entities to promote breast cancer awareness and drive early detection efforts this October. We always need more assistance to be able to make the greatest impact.

“I therefore urge our supporters — sponsors, public and private entities and the people — to ensure the success of our advocacy efforts once again. With a responsible community and committed philanthropists, the UAE will always be a step ahead of breast cancer.”


Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
Updated 03 October 2022

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
  •  Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money to tackle the climate crisis

LONDON: COP27 host Egypt has warned the UK against “backtracking” from its commitments to the global fight against climate change.

“The COP president designate is disappointed by these reports,” an Egyptian government spokesperson said. “The Egyptian presidency of the climate conference acknowledges the longstanding and strong commitment of His Majesty to the climate cause, and believes that his presence would have been of great added value to the visibility of climate action at this critical moment,” they added.

“We hope that this doesn’t indicate that the UK is backtracking from the global climate agenda after presiding over COP26.

“His Majesty King Charles was invited as a very special guest to COP27. The invitation was extended to His Royal Highness as Prince of Wales, and renewed to His Majesty as King, and he will be most welcomed in Sharm El-Sheikh if he honors us with his presence.”

An Egyptian government spokesperson’s comments, which appear to be a response to concerns over British prime minister Liz Truss’ stance on net zero targets, also came as reports surfaced of Britain’s King Charles III being told not to attend the conference next month.

During pre-COP27 climate talks in Kinshasa on Monday, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money, noting an unfulfilled promise — dating back to COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 — to provide developing countries with $100 billion dollars a year to fight climate change.

“The picture is not reassuring,” he said.

Delegates from over 50 countries are attending the two-day informal talks in Kinshasa, including US climate envoy John Kerry. The event finishes on Wednesday with side discussions.

No formal announcements are expected in what is billed as a ground-clearing exercise ahead of the next month's conference, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh from November 6-18. Egypt, as host of COP27, has made implementing the pledge to curb global heating the priority of the November summit.

Greater support from wealthier countries, historically the world's biggest carbon polluters, to their poorer counterparts is expected to dominate the talks. But post-pandemic economic strains and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have cast a pall over the money question.


Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
Updated 11 min 14 sec ago

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
  • PM Saeed urges international community to abandon its soft policy on Iran-backed militia
  • ‘Appeasement … does not increase the likelihood of peace,’ he says

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting between government troops and Iran-backed Houthis broke out across Yemen at the weekend after the militia refused to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired on Sunday, sources said.

The fiercest battles took place outside the central city of Marib and in Al-Fakher area of Dhale province, where the Houthis barraged government forces with mortar rounds, cannonballs, tanks and drones fitted with explosives, an army official told Arab News.

Just minutes after the truce expired on Sunday night, the Houthis began shelling government soldiers with heavy weapons and drones in the area of Al-Baleq mountain, south of Marib. After that, they advanced on the ground in an effort to take control of the hilly territory that overlooks the city.

At the same time, other Houthi fighters launched attacks on government forces in Al-Kasarah, Raghwan and Mas, west of Marib.

The attacks sparked fierce fighting with loyalists, who were able to push them back.

“They have been preparing for these engagements from the beginning of the truce,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, adding that the Houthis incurred significant losses in the clashes and were unable to advance on the battlefield.

Heavy fighting also erupted in Al-Fakher in Dhale, where pro-independence southern troops said they had repelled Houthi attacks on their positions soon after the truce expired.

There were also sporadic exchanges of heavy machine-gun fire between government troops and the Houthis outside the besieged city of Taiz. The fighting erupted after UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg failed to persuade the Houthis to renew the ceasefire.

He said on Sunday that the UN-brokered truce, which went into effect on April 2 and was renewed twice, would not be renewed a third time. He thanked the Yemeni government for “positively” cooperating with his proposals to end the war.

A few hours before the announcement, Grundberg told Rashad Al-Alimi, the president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, that the Houthis had rejected his latest proposal to extend the truce.

The failure to renew it sparked outrage and criticism, primarily directed at the Houthis, as the truce has significantly reduced violence in Yemen, allowed Sanaa airport to reopen and made it possible for dozens of fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah port.

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed condemned the Houthis for failing to renew the truce and urged the international community to abandon its soft policy toward the Houthis and take aggressive measures to punish them for sabotaging peace efforts.

“Appeasement policy (from the international community) does not increase the likelihood of peace and instead encourages the Houthis to become more obstinate,” he was quoted as saying by official media, adding that the Houthis interpreted concessions and appeals to them as signs of weakness.

“Whenever an opportunity for peace arises, the Houthi militia, backed by the Iranian regime, chooses to squander it by choosing to go to war,” Saeed said.

International aid organizations working in Yemen also expressed their dismay at the renewed fighting and its impact on civilians and humanitarian efforts in the country.

“We are deeply disappointed that the truce in #Yemen has not been restored,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said on Twitter.

“We call on parties to the conflict to reconsider, refrain from pulling the trigger and extend the arm of diplomacy as they have done for 6 months."

Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Near and Middle East director, also appealed for an end to the fighting, saying the truce had allowed Yemenis to live in peace.

“We regret that an agreement was not reached to extend a nationwide ceasefire in #Yemen. Over the past 6 months, the truce had given millions of people respite from fighting,” he tweeted on Monday.

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Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees
Updated 03 October 2022

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees
  • The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues

CAIRO: Egypt’s Presidential Pardon Committee has announced the release of 50 pretrial detainees.
The committee said that it had completed its procedures in coordination with the relevant agencies to release a new batch of detainees who are not involved in violence and do not belong to terrorist groups.
The committee confirmed in a statement the continuation of its work during the coming period in containing and integrating the released persons in accordance with the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, which are implemented in coordination with state agencies and institutions.
The names of the list were announced on Twitter by MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the committee, which included 50 detainees who received a presidential pardon.
The committee also confirmed its aspiration for more releases.
Tariq Al-Awadi, a member of the committee, said: “We hope to speed up the pace of consideration of the remaining detainees, close this file permanently, and turn this page completely.”
Al-Awadi continued: “All that concerns me is the release of all those imprisoned in opinion cases, and I am not interested in who or what the reason for their release was.”
Last September, Egypt ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees.
The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues.
The committee was one of the outcomes of the first National Youth Conference in 2016, where Egyptian youth addressed government leaders with presidential engagement.
In April this year, El-Sisi said during his speech at the Egyptian Family Iftar that he would reactivate the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee that was formed as one of the outcomes of the conference.
Since the committee’s formation in 2016, a variety of political parties and organizations, including the National Council for Human Rights and parliament’s Human Rights Committee, have submitted the names of prisoners who are eligible for presidential pardon consideration.