BEIRUT: The U.S. Treasury and American financial authorities did not produce any evidence that the Lebanese banking sector is involved with money laundering activity or terrorist funding, the secretary-general of the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Tuesday.
“There are a number of articles published in prestigious U.S. newspapers that claim that some of our banks are hoarding illegal cash or getting involved in terrorist funding. All these allegations were not substantiated by their authors,” Makram Sader told The Daily Star.
“Furthermore, all of the U.S. officials and ambassador who met with Lebanese bankers commended the cooperation of banks in the fight against money laundering.”
Lebanese banks recently came under the spotlight once again after reports in U.S. media said that four Lebanese individuals may have been involved in funding Hezbollah through illegal drug businesses.
This is not the first time that U.S. newspapers and magazines have tied the Lebanese banking sector to alleged involvement in money laundering and terrorist funding activities.
Several leading bankers have expressed their indignation over what they say is a campaign waged by some U.S. newspapers to discredit the reputation of Lebanese lenders.
In some cases, Lebanese bankers have told U.S. officials that a few media outlets are fabricating stories about the banking system in Lebanon without producing any shred of evidence.
Sader stressed that some official U.S. financial institutions mentioned cases involving individuals who may have played a role in money laundering.
“The Special Investigation Commission, which is tasked to follow up suspected money laundering cases, issues an annual report about the cases it receives from Lebanon and abroad,” Sader explained.
“The SIC has on many occasions referred all suspected cases to the Prosecution Office, which has lifted the banking secrecy on some of the accounts. It is in our interest to examine the file of every client to safeguard the reputation of the banks.”
François Bassil, the chairman of Byblos Bank and former president of ABL, told an Arabic-language newspaper a week ago that U.S. authorities are applying pressure on Lebanese banks in order to crack down on all illegal activities.
Bassil also brushed aside allegations that some Lebanese banks were suspected of hoarding illegal cash or accepting deposits from Syrian and Iranian officials.
One banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, hinted that Lebanese banks may consider filing lawsuits against any newspaper that publishes unfounded reports about local banks.
The banker insisted that the allegations made in some Western media are politically motivated.
“Some of these articles read like a police or a fiction story. The authors like to label countries but fail to show a single shred of evidence against Lebanese banks,” the banker said.
Sader said that U.S. authorities show no mercy against any American bank which may have broken the law or is involved in insider trading, as in the case of JPMorgan.
“If the U.S. authorities had any kind of evidence against any Lebanese bank it would not have hesitated to place the name of this bank on the black list,” Sader said.
He added that any extra cash that comes to Lebanon should be registered in the balance sheets of commercial banks.
“So far, we are recording a growth of 8 percent this year and this average is very normal under the current circumstances. If we had an inflow of capital then the balance of payments would have registered a surplus and this is not the case,” Sader said.
Bankers have said that the case of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank will not be repeated as the Central Bank has insisted that all lenders tighten supervision to avoid similar scenarios.
They also emphasized that banks refuse to deal with any Iranian or Syrian bank in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.