Lebanon authorized caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi to communicate with authorities in Saudi Arabia to uncover the perpetrators behind an alleged drug smuggling operation that initiated a ban on fresh produce imports, media reports said on Tuesday.
“We are keen to respect national security and Saudi society, and we hope that the crisis with Saudi Arabia will be resolved and exports will return,” Fahmi said in remarks to al-Arabiya television station.
He assured that security forces would be ordered to “double down to prevent all smuggling from Lebanon,” noting that “four individuals suspected of having links to the drug shipment are under investigation by the anti-narcotics bureau.”
Riyadh on Friday announced the suspension of fresh produce shipments from Lebanon, saying they were being used to hide drugs and accusing Beirut of inaction.
On Monday, President Michel Aoun headed a meeting attended by prime minister, several Cabinet ministers and heads of security agencies that discussed Saudi Arabia’s decision last week.
Officials agreed to task Fahmi with talks with Saudi Arabia and vowed to investigate and institute strict new measures.
Al-Joumhouria daily said that Fahmi’s assignment was done as part of a plan that could lead to his travel to Saudi Arabia, carrying the results of investigations that were launched immediately, to clarify to Saudi authorities the various aspects of the case.
The move will be backed by the diplomatic and political support it deserves, added the daily.
Lebanon Monday urged Saudi Arabia to rethink the ban, a day after the suspension came into force over alleged drug smuggling.
The decision deprives Lebanese growers of one of their top export destinations, in a country already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.
The Saudi news agency reported Friday that customs officials in the Red Sea port of Jeddah seized 5.3 million banned captagon pills hidden in a consignment of pomegranates from Lebanon.
The Lebanese officials have asked the state prosecutor to follow up on the investigation into the shipment, adding that Lebanon strongly rejects that its facilities are used as a point for such “criminal acts.”