BEIRUT: Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui said Thursday he would sue Future Movement MP Ghazi Youssef over accusations of embezzlement, vowing to take legal action against the parliamentarian.
“I will file a lawsuit against him ... and the Parliament should carry the responsibility of lifting his [parliamentary] immunity,” Sehnaoui told a news conference. “I will put him in jail.”
Youssef has accused the minister of embezzling more than $60 million through a contract to expand the country’s 3G network.
The contract with mobile carrier touch was awarded to Huawei, a China-based telecoms equipment company, in December last year. Youssef has maintained that no offers were sought from other companies.
Defending the contract, Sehnaoui said the cost included 320 new 3G stations, microwave links, packet switch cores and 4G stations in addition to insurance, transportation and customs.
“The number of maximum subscribers will raise almost threefold to 1.5 million,” Sehnaoui said, adding the network speed would more than double.
Sehnaoui stressed that Huawei offered a 40.7 percent discount on the original value of the contract. He added the discount value would stand at 48.9 percent, if the cost of 50 additional 4G sites that were given by the company free of charge was included.
Huawei’s Lebanon office declined to give an interview to The Daily Star, citing internal procedures. Earlier in the week, the company released a statement on the matter: “All our contracts in Lebanon are fully transparent and there are no suspicions about them.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, Youssef dismissed Sehnaoui’s remarks, adding the minister was “nervous and disrespectful” throughout the news conference. He said he would be ready to face Sehnaoui in court.
“I am doing my obligations as a member of Parliament and it is my duty to look into all transparent matters,” he said. “No one has the right to say he will put me in jail.”
Drawing comparisons with an earlier touch-Huawei contract, Youssef said the launch of 3G services, initial expansion and a software upgrade had cost the Lebanese government much less than the new contract.
During the initial phase, 800 3G transmitters, with a total capacity of 700,000 subscribers, had cost no more than $67 million in two phases, he said.
“There is no reason that 300 stations cost $85 million” he said, adding the cost should not exceed $30 million.