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Lebanon News

Mikati warns HRC head over remarks

File - Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati looks on during an interview with Journalist Marcel Ghanem, unseen, at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a warning Sunday to the head of the Higher Relief Committee accused of embezzlement earlier this week, saying his remarks would be subject to investigation.

“I am warning you that what you said violated the law because you require permission from your boss before making statements,” Mikati said in a warning issued to the head of HRC Ibrahim Bashir. The latter reports to the office of the prime minister.

“The Cabinet as well as the General Directorate and Secretary General of the Cabinet will take the necessary judicial measures and procedures to respond to the irresponsible allegations you made,” he added.

Media reports published Thursday and Friday alleged Bashir had transferred public funds to the tune of $10 million to private accounts abroad. In one transaction, some $3.6 million were allegedly transferred to a joint bank account in Belarus. The account, the reports said, was in the name of Bashir and his wife.

Mikati placed Bashir on administrative leave Friday while Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir, the general secretary of the Higher Defense Council, temporarily replaced him.

Public prosecutors will begin investigating the accusations against Bashir on Monday.

Bashir denied the allegations, accusing Suheil Bouji, secretary-general of the caretaker Cabinet, of giving false testimony. Bashir also defended himself, saying he transformed the aid-giving organization “from a Beiruti-Sunni monopoly that offered help to a limited class of people into an institution that works for the sake of all the Lebanese without exception.”

In his warning, Mikati said Bashir’s remarks could be seen as a criminal offense punishable by the Penal Code, adding that the head of the HRC made a “failed attempt” to politicize the case and discredit the Special Investigation Commission, also known as Lebanon’s Financial Intelligence Unit.

Lebanon’s Central Bank referred the case to the judiciary after receiving reports about Bashir’s suspicious activity from the Special Investigation Commission.

“[Bashir’s remarks] are also an attempt to incite sectarian and confessional strife,” the warning said.

“A copy of this warning will be referred to the public prosecution along with a copy of what you said for investigation [and possible legal action],” it added.

Bashir was appointed in 2011 to head the HRC, a committee that disburses funds during emergencies and tragedies in Lebanon, and has adamantly denied the allegations.

 

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