BEIRUT: Lebanese banks are regularly updating the lists of individuals and groups with suspected links to terrorist organizations in line with strict U.S. and European measures to combat terrorist funding, the secretary-general of the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Friday.
“We are fully complying with all the measures adopted by the U.S. financial authorities and we have conveyed the actions we are taking during our talks with American officials in Washington,” Markam Sader told The Daily Star.
Sader was part of a large Lebanese banking group headed by ABL President Joseph Torbey which held several meetings with U.S. officials, senators and key figures from the Treasury Department last week.
Lebanese banks came under the spotlight after U.S. authorities accused the Lebanese-Canadian Bank of money laundering and terrorist funding in February 2012, charges denied by the management of the bank.
The charges prompted Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh to persuade the chairman of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank to sell the bank’s assets to the highest bidder. The bank was eventually acquired by SGBL.
Following this incident, Salameh and the Lebanese banks tightened the supervision of suspicious accounts.
“The U.S. authorities have a list of all those suspected in terrorist or illegal activities and naturally the Lebanese banks routinely update these lists in their database. We automatically freeze the account of any person who appears on the list,” Sader explained.
He added that U.S. authorities and all the officials the delegation met in Washington said they were very pleased with the compliance of the Lebanese banks.
“We were assured many times that the United States has no intention to target any Lebanese banks because they realize that these lenders are closely monitoring all transactions,” Sader said.
He added the blacklist includes Lebanese groups that are labeled as terrorist organizations by Washington.
“We have to abide by the U.S. lists even if some of these groups are Lebanese parties. Hezbollah is included on the list and naturally we have to abide by the U.S. measures.”
But he emphasized that no members of Hezbollah or its affiliates have accounts with Lebanese banks.
Some observers say Hezbollah does not channel money through Lebanese banks because the party realizes that both Lebanese and American authorities currently monitor all transactions.
Sader added that Lebanese banks were not doing any business with Syrian or Iranian officials on the blacklist.
He revealed that Lebanese banks operating in Syria told the governor of the Syrian central bank that they were not authorized to accept any dollar transactions or open accounts for any Syrian official on the list.
“All of the Lebanese banks in Syria sent a memo to the Syrian central bank governor explaining that these banks are obliged to comply with U.S. and European measures and they have no intention of bypassing these sanctions. Lebanese banks are aware that if they violate these sanctions they will be subjected to U.S. penalties,” Sader said.
He added that the Lebanese banks in Syria would continue to operate in this country unless the Syrian central bank governor decides to revoke their licenses, which he deemed very unlikely.
Sader also emphasized that Washington did not press Lebanese banks to shut down their operations in Syria.
“On the contrary, we got signals from U.S. officials that the presence of Lebanese banks in Syria will be very crucial after the transitional stage in this country. They [the Americans] appear to be keen to let the Lebanese banks help the Syrian economy if the political changes take place.”