Lebanon News

Jumblatt mocks Ogero head over Internet

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt indulged in yet another Twitter tirade Thursday, mocking the handling of recent revelations of unlicensed Internet providers operating in Lebanon.

“The suspected party and most members of this group at least attended [the committee meeting] to investigate itself,” Jumblatt tweeted. “This is a banana republic par excellence and look at the suspects’ faces, how they are malicious and contain the traces of contempt.”

MP Hasan Fadlallah chaired a session for Parliament’s Media and Telecommunications Committee Wednesday during which attendees continued an investigation into the unlicensed providers. After the session, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said that the state had lost $200 million in revenue.

“They have begun toning down the allegations of smuggling and scandal and have limited the issue to financial losses, without specifying who is responsible,” Jumblatt tweeted. When he announced its existence on March 17, Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said that the network was infiltrated by Israel.

“The parliamentary committee, the defense minister, and a representative of the Army were present, in addition to Abdel-Moneim Crocodile, excuse me Youssef,” Jumblatt added in a gibe at head of the state-owned Ogero telecommunications company, Abdel-Moneim Youssef.

The unlicensed network provided citizens and reportedly sensitive state institutions with faster and cheaper Internet than the current market standards. Reports surfaced claiming that Parliament and certain intelligence departments were receiving Internet free of charge from the network.

PSP’s Progressive Youth Organization also called on the judiciary to investigate the “illegal” network and rely on the testimony of impartial experts. It accused the Telecommunications Ministry of being aware of the network for the past two years.

“The Telecommunications Ministry has known that there were companies providing illegal Internet since July 2014,” head of the organization, Saleh Hodeifi, said during a news conference Thursday.

Hodeifi blamed government officials and claimed that they were the ones who forced citizens to rely on unlicensed networks.

Lebanon’s Internet ranks among the world’s worst and most expensive; the market is monopolized by a handful of companies.

Hodeifi said that the judiciary’s ongoing investigations into the provider should rely on experts outside the influence of the state company. “[Ogero] is the antagonist and cannot be the judge,” he charged.

The PSP previously filed two lawsuits against Youssef in December and January over corruption allegations, alleging that he received illegal payments from the Telecommunications Ministry.

Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc warned that any delay or hampering of investigations would not be tolerated.

“The information we have reached so far ... reveals substantial piracy that impacts upon public funds,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. “It opens security windows that the enemy could use to sneak through so they can reach the Internet data that belongs to the state. ... We warn against treating the issue lightly or manipulating the situation.”

Although investigations by a number of judicial authorities have begun, including the financial prosecutor and the state prosecutor, no findings have yet been announced.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 01, 2016, on page 4.

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