lorientlejour.com-David Hale, the third-highest ranking US State Department official, will meet party leaders in Lebanon today in an effort to break the cabinet formation deadlock. (Credit: Susan Walsh/AFP/Getty Images)
The Swiss judiciary is investigating Riad Salameh for the transfer abroad of hundreds of millions of dollars from BDL, according to documents obtained by our sister publication Le Commerce du Levant. In a written request for Lebanese legal assistance in investigations into “aggravated money laundering,” Swiss prosecutors said they are focusing on a more than $330 million contract between the central bank and a broker company whose beneficiary owner is the governor’s younger brother, Raja Salameh. These funds were then allegedly passed on to other accounts linked to the governor and his associates. If Salameh is found guilty of having embezzled public funds via the central bank, he faces five years in prison, the seizure of his assets in Switzerland and their return to Lebanon.
Michel Aoun sent draft decree amendments widening Lebanon’s claim to disputed territorial waters back to cabinet. The president held off on signing the draft, saying he had consulted an advisory committee at the Justice Ministry, which said that the amendments to Decree 6433 of 2011, expanding Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone by some 1,400 square kilometers must be approved by the government, “even a caretaker one.” Since the resignation of Hassan Diab’s cabinet on Aug. 4, he and the president have passed various policies with their signatures, bypassing the full government. After being criticized for shirking responsibilities, Diab has called on Parliament to more clearly set out the caretaker cabinet’s role.
Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister asked Syria to enter negotiations on the demarcation of the countries’ maritime border. During a meeting with Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, Charbel Wehbi handed over a memo repeating Lebanon’s claim over the northern limits of its exclusive economic zone. Last month, Syria granted a Russian company rights to drill for hydrocarbons in a block off its southern coast, some 750 square kilometers of which are claimed by Lebanon. The two countries have been at odds over the disputed waters since 2010, when Lebanon handed its perceived maritime borders to the UN.
Saad Hariri travels to Moscow today on an apparent mission to secure financial aid. The premier-designate is scheduled to meet officials including President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and will seek Russian assistance in rebuilding the Beirut port and constructing power plants, his advisor George Shaaban was quoted as saying. Hariri will also attempt to secure Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines. His party, the Future Movement, has already launched its own campaign to register people for inoculations.
Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will now be spaced six weeks apart, rather than three, the caretaker health minister announced. Hamad Hassan said that the ministry had made the decision in order to offer more people some protection from coronavirus amid limited vaccine supplies. While Pfizer recommends that a second jab be administered after 21 days, the US Centers for Disease Control said that while this timeline is preferable, the vaccine can be administered up to six weeks later. So far, around 110,000 people have been fully inoculated and 102,000 more have had one dose.
Former ISF cybercrime chief Suzanne al-Hajj was acquitted of charges that she conspired to frame Lebanese actor Ziad Itani of collaborating with Israel, a judicial source told L’Orient Today. The military appeals court did however sentence hacker Elie Ghabash to one and a half years in prison with hard labor for fabricating evidence against Itani, who was arrested and imprisoned for more than 100 days over the accusations, during which he alleges he suffered brutal torture. While Hajj was cleared of conspiring with Ghabash, the court found that she was aware of his plans and handed down a two-month prison sentence and a LL200,000 fine for her failure to inform her superiors. Itani said that the court’s ruling was indicative of the judiciary’s inability to investigate corruption and that his “fight is not over.”
The Military Tribunal will today try people arrested during protests in front of the Sakanet al-Helou police compound in January 2020. During a sit-in against the detention of dozens of people for their alleged involvement in protests in Hamra’s bank street, demonstrators outside the barracks clashed with security forces and several were arrested. According to Legal Agenda, 20 civilians involved in the Oct. 17 uprising are being tried at the secretive Military Tribunal this week — a practice that human rights groups have repeatedly condemned.