Action against narcotics smuggling, papal letter, Bassil heads to Moscow: Everything you need to know to start your Wednesday

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According to the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, in 2019 Saudi Arabia took about 22 percent of Lebanon’s agricultural exports. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

As Lebanese-Saudi relations continue to roil amid a recent drug trafficking scandal, the General Federation of Agricultural Trade Unions will hold a press conference today at 11 a.m. to publicly address narcotics smuggling from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, Greece and Libya. The federation is also expected to lay out decisions taken to prevent agricultural produce from being used for smuggling. Last week, Saudi Arabia banned all Lebanese produce imports after more than 5 million Captagon pills were found hidden inside a shipment of hollowed-out pomegranates. On Tuesday, Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari wrote on Twitter that the kingdom had seized over 57 million narcotic substances hidden in Lebanese produce shipments since the beginning of 2020. A prolonged ban would be a major blow to Lebanon’s already beleaguered farmers; according to the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, in 2019 Saudi Arabia alone took about 22 percent of Lebanon’s agricultural exports.

Judge Ghada Aoun filed an appeal with the Shura Council to overturn her removal from financial crimes cases by Lebanon’s top prosecutor. In the appeal, she claims Ghassan Oueidat breached “his powers by confiscating legal prerogatives” accorded to her by the constitution. Oueidat moved to dismiss Aoun two weeks ago from cases related to “important financial crimes,” but Aoun refused to comply, instead raiding the offices of the Mecattaf Holding Group four times, most recently overnight Monday. Mecattaf has been accused of money laundering and illicit enrichment. (The company has denied the allegations.) Aoun’s brazenness has prompted public outcry mostly along political lines, with supporters viewing her as a crusader against corruption while opponents argue she is little more than a political lackey of the Free Patriotic Movement and its founder, President Michel Aoun, who appointed her.

A German ship arrived at the Beirut port on Tuesday to remove tons of hazardous material found in the wake of the deadly Aug. 4 explosion. A source from the German company Combilift told L’Orient Today on Tuesday that the material would start to be loaded onto the ship the same day. The waste had been sorted by Combilift but then stored at the port since February — despite its toxicity — because Lebanon had failed to open a letter of credit to pay the company.

In a letter to Michel Aoun, Pope Francis urged Lebanese officials to work to end the country’s political crisis, saying “Lebanon cannot lose its identity or the spirit of brotherly living.” The head of the Roman Catholic Church said this is “what made Lebanon a message to the whole world,” calling on “officials to commit themselves to the benefit of the nation.” The pope had met last week with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who has been at loggerheads with Aoun over the cabinet’s formation. The formation has been stalled amid the worst economic and financial crisis in Lebanon’s modern history.

Meanwhile, Gebran Bassil will head to Moscow today to meet with senior Russian officials. The former foreign minister and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, who is also the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and seasoned diplomat Mikhail Bogdanov. Bassil’s trip is taking place amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by Lebanese officials aimed at currying sympathy from potential allies, including a visit to Qatar by caretaker Premier Hassan Diab and another to Moscow by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. Still, Lebanon’s government formation crisis persists with no end in sight, as the country approaches its ninth month without an empowered cabinet.

 

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