BEIRUT: Lebanese media outlets expressed concern on Friday over creeping examples of “employing the judiciary for sectarian and electoral political goals.”
It followed controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun’s fresh measures against the country’s embattled banking sector.
Aoun issued a new decision on Thursday evening banning six banks from transferring funds abroad.
The move coincided with the judiciary tightening the noose around the governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh.
The first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, Nicolas Mansour, summoned Salameh for a hearing next Thursday.
The judge stressed that an arrest warrant would be issued against the central bank governor if he failed to attend the hearing.
Mansour also issued an adversarial arrest warrant against Salameh’s brother, Rajah Salameh, ordering he be kept in custody until next week based on charges of alleged illicit enrichment and money laundering.
In response to Aoun’s recent decision, the Association of Banks in Lebanon said in a statement on Friday that such decisions showed a lack of knowledge of banking activity and its role in the national economy, and a complete disregard for the law.
The statement said the judge’s decision could harm depositors who “will not obtain their rights once banks collapse and the country follows.”
The association added: “The funds transferred by banks feed their accounts abroad, allowing them to fulfill their obligations, especially those resulting from opening credits for imports.
“Preventing banks from transferring funds abroad leads to shutting down their accounts and preventing imports, directly affecting the banks’ local clients.”
The association’s lawyer Akram Azoury sent an open letter to the head of Lebanon’s public prosecutions, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, appealing to him to stop the implementation of Aoun’s decision.
Azoury said that it would “harm the core of the banking sector and the principle of freedom of transfers and freedom of trade, which Lebanon has always adopted.”
He noted that such a decision falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the legislative authority, and this measure will further deteriorate the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound against the dollar.
The banks’ protest continued as Government Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki filed new charges of attempted murder and inciting sectarian strife against Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, over the Oct. 14 Tayyouneh incident.
Akiki referred the case to the first military investigative judge, Fadi Sawan, requesting that Geagea be interrogated.
The plaintiff in the Tayouneh case had refused to receive complaints and reviews submitted by the Lebanese Forces since investigations began.
The Lebanese Forces party accuses Hezbollah and the Amal Movement of bringing their members into Christian-majority areas five months ago, and of destroying people’s property, which led to a confrontation with the residents of the area that descended into bloody armed clashes.
Political observers believe that the successive judicial decisions seem to target “the opponents of Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement and its Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement, by making the judicary a tool for settling political and electoral scores.”
Former judge and Lebanese Forces MP George Okais said that the accusation against Geagea “is political, and whoever thinks they can wage a judicial war of elimination are mistaken.”
Lebanese Forces MP Ziad Hawat criticized the judiciary’s recent actions that “damage the foundations of the state.”
The Future Movement expressed shock at the “subversive approach, which uses the judiciary as a tool to destroy what remains of the components of public order and Lebanon’s economic identity.”
Commenting on the allegations against Geagea, it said: “Such actions harm the Lebanese judiciary as an authority concerned with protecting civil peace.
“How can the judiciary be fair and impartial, when it resorts to taking retaliatory measures in the interest of a political group, turning a blind eye to financial, political and security crimes, and not moving a finger to implement rulings issued by the highest judicial authorities in the world against criminals involved in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and similar issues?”
The Future Movement also noted: “Some want the judiciary to be a partisan farm that operates on demand. It’s time for the Supreme Judicial Council to take matters into its own hands.”