BEIRUT: Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud took disciplinary measures Friday against Internal Security Forces (ISF) Director Ashraf Rifi for exceeding his prerogatives with regard to a security and judicial issue, the National News Agency (NNA) reported Friday.
The NNA quoted the interior minister as saying that Rifi was not entitled to respond to a parliamentary inquiry referred to him by the interior minister, asking for an explanation of the procedures that governed investigations into the case of former General Fayez Karam by the Information Branch of the ISF.
Metn MP Nabil Nicholas, of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), submitted earlier this week a parliamentary inquiry to the government, which in turn was referred by the Interior Ministry to Rifi.
Nicholas had argued that investigations by the Information Branch involved legal violations because the establishment of the branch was illegitimate.
Karam, a senior FPM official, was arrested in August on suspicion of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
Rifi issued a statement Thursday in response to Nicholas, saying the Information Branch was assuming its national duty in fighting spying networks for Israel while questioning Nicholas’ soft position with regard to collaborators with Israel.
Rifi’s response was out of line, according to Baroud.
“The publication of a document in this manner violates legal norms and is in line with several past leaks that negatively impacted the general [domestic] situation,” the ministry statement said, in reference to earlier news reports that said Karam had confessed to collaborating with Israel. “The director general exceeded his prerogatives when he responded to a parliamentary inquiry referred to him by the concerned minister to elaborate on the procedures followed [during investigations with Karam] which the minister alone is qualified to answer … in line with article 66 of the Constitution,” it added.
According to the Constitution, Rifi should have referred his memo to Baroud, who in turn would submit it to Cabinet.
“The Interior Ministry submitted the memo to the prime ministers’s office after omitting unnecessary vocabulary and statements relating to a political dispute,” the statement said, in reference to the debate between FPM officials and Rifi.
FPM officials say political motives were behind Karam’s arrest by the Information Branch.
Tensions have flared between Aoun and the Information Branch since Karam’s arrest. Aoun argues Karam was innocent and subjected to torture during probes while the Information Branch says it possess documents proving that Karam has confessed to ties with the Mossad.
“The interior minister expressed his irritation at this behavior, which does not work to safeguard the ISF as a national institution, particularly under the current difficult circumstances Lebanon is experiencing, at a time when the minister has supported boosting the achievements of the ISF in uncovering spying networks,” the statement added.
Commenting on Baroud’s action, Nicholas called it insufficient, and should be followed with Rifi’s referral to the judiciary. He said the ISF director should be asked to step down from his post.
However, a security source said in a statement that despite disciplinary actions against Rifi, the ISF would continue its battle to uncover collaborators and would not bow to intimidation and threats. “Irrespective of any decision and whoever took it, we will not fear the uncovering of agents and all those who stand behind them and despite intimidation campaigns and threats the ISF will continue to assume its role in protecting the country and its people’s security,” the statement said.