Lebanon News

Attempt to smuggle pesticides thwarted at Beirut port

BEIRUT: The Agriculture Ministry and the Directorate of Customs thwarted the smuggling of a dangerous pesticide through Beirut’s port, the National News Agency said Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan ordered the investigation in cooperation with the Directorate of Customs and General Security of an illegal shipment of the pesticide methyl bromide, which was discovered Thursday.

“There are only two registered companies that import this kind of substance … the one that is receiving the substance [methyl bromide] is not a registered company at the ministry,” Hajj Hasan added.

The minister told reporters that he opened a formal investigation into the case to uncover the identity of the would-be recipients of the shipments.

Most commonly used as a gas fumigant against insects, rodents and soil-borne diseases, methyl bromide is highly toxic to humans and animals and its use is restricted in Lebanon and many other countries.

“There is an international resolution to decrease the consumption of this substance, and in Lebanon we need to completely stop its use by 2015,” said Hajj Hassan, adding that use of the substance is already highly restricted in the country.

Inhaling or coming into contact with methyl bromide can cause severe chemical burns and can be fatal.

In addition to the methyl bromide, the Customs Directorate and the ministry also confiscated nine other containers which contained toxic agricultural products worth over $300,000.

“Apart from the nine containers that we uncovered [which contained a toxic substance] … there are five other containers we will go through tomorrow,” said Hajj Hasan, adding that they were purchased by a fake agricultural company called “Lebanon.”

“This unregistered company has no right to even import this substance because its source is also unknown,” the agriculture minister explained.

According to Hajj Hasan, his ministry will be cracking down on smuggling operations that could harm the country’s agriculture sector.

“There are many problems in this matter, but we will continue cooperation with the Internal Security Forces and remain vigilant,” said Hajj Hasan.

According to the minister, no one had shown up to pick up their containers from the port yet.

“We are going after those criminals … I already held a meeting with the port’s officials and we discussed all the necessary precautions that must be taken,” he said.

Hajj Hasan called such acts illegal and an “offense against public health.”

“There are traders who exploit the port’s openness to pass illegal products like themselves,” said Hajj Hasan in reference to fraudulent companies and traders.

Hajj Hasan voiced regret that the judiciary has failed so far to charge a network of fraudulent traders.

“I have not heard any decision from the judiciary on these matters,” he said.

Shafiq Merhi, the head of the Customs Directorate, announced that his department has established new strategy combat smuggling through seaports.

“We put in place a new strategy in cooperation with Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi,” said Merhi

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2011, on page 2.

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