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US sanctions Bassil over corruption, abuse of power

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Aug. 23, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The United States slapped sanctions on President of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil for his involvement in corruption, embezzlement of public funds, obstructing reforms and establishing ties with Hezbollah, a senior government official said Friday.

The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters over the telephone that that US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Gebran Bassil, the president of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) political party and member of Parliament (MP), pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, for his role in corruption in Lebanon. E.O. 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, targets corruption and serious human rights abuses around the world.

He assured that the new case against Bassil iss not aimed at derailing the formation of the Lebanese government.

This is the first time Washington targets a senior member of the Free Patriotic Movement which has close ties to Hezbollah, labeled as a terrorist group by the United States.

The US official denied that the timing of the sanctions were aimed at delaying the formation of the Lebanese government or coincided with the US Presidential elections.

He accused Bassil of serving his own interests instead of the Lebanese people’s, adding that the head of the FPM abused his position to further his political gains.

“Hezbollah depends on corruption in Lebanon for survival and this alliance between Bassil and Hezbollah was at the expense of the Lebanese people,” the official explained.

The official said Washington has previously charged former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos with corruption and embezzlement and ties with Hezbollah.

The official hoped the Lebanese banks would stop dealing with Bassil following the US sanctions against him. Lebanese banks usually fully comply with all US sanctions against any Lebanese individual or official.

Asked what kind of evidence the US has against Bassil, the official said that all the charges against the former energy minister are listed in the statement of OFAC.

The official stressed that Washington will continue to encourage Lebanese leaders to implement reforms, corruption and obey the wishes of the Lebanese people.

“The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said. “This designation further demonstrates that the United States supports the Lebanese people in their continued calls for reform and accountability,” he added.

The statement noted that Lebanon has long suffered from corruption and economic mismanagement by powerbrokers who advance their own interests at the expense of the Lebanese people they are supposed to represent.

“Since October 2019, protests with participation from a broad representation of Lebanese citizens have called for political, social, and economic reform in Lebanon. Successive governments in Lebanon have failed to stem rising inflation, reduce the country’s mounting debt, improve failing infrastructure, or ensure that reliable electricity and other services reached Lebanese households,” it added.

The statement said the socio-economic conditions for ordinary Lebanese continue to deteriorate while political leaders are insulated from the crisis and are failing to implement needed reforms.

“Lebanon continues to experience an unprecedented garbage crisis caused by mismanagement and corruption that is continually pouring toxic waste into the Mediterranean Sea, polluting the water and ultimately endangering the health of its citizens. The country is also experiencing an energy crisis that leaves people without electricity for hours or even days at a time, and government officials offer constant claims that they are fixing the problem, only to spend billions of dollars resulting in no improvement for Lebanese citizens” it indicated.

The statement insisted that Bassil was at the forefront of corruption in Lebanon.

“Bassil has held several high-level posts in the Lebanese government, including serving as the Minister of Telecommunications, the Minister of Energy and Water, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, and Bassil has been marked by significant allegations of corruption. In 2017, Bassil strengthened his political base by appointing friends to positions and purchasing other forms of influence within Lebanese political circles. In 2014, while Minister of Energy, Bassil was involved in approving several projects that would have steered Lebanese government funds to individuals close to him through a group of front companies.”

The statement argued that Bassil was designated for being a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individual above, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by him, individually, or with other blocked persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by US persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons,” the statement said.

It added that the prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

 

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