BEIRUT: Former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Sunday US sanctions against him were the result of his refusal to break ties with Hezbollah, describing them as "unjust" and vowing to fight them.
“These sanctions are an injustice and I will fight them and sue for damages," Bassil said in a televised speech, criticizing the official US statement announcing the sanctions for lacking any concrete evidence proving alleged corruption.
“I am ready for any face-off – give me one fact, one piece of evidence, name one company you claim I have used as a front for corruption, pinpoint one bank account,” Bassil stated.
Bassil said he would hire a law firm to challenge the sanctions for lacking legal basis and would ask for moral and material compensation, adding that the case could be taken to international courts.
Criticizing the US for claiming to pursue corrupt people, Bassil challenged them to expose the accounts and transfers from Lebanon and to publicize the evidence they were in possession of.
Recounting events that led to the sanctions against him, Bassil revealed that “serious conversations about sanctions against me started in 2018, with the formation of the second [Cabinet of former Prime Minister Saad] Hariri where I became a minister because of Hariri’s insistence,” adding that he was told it was necessary for him to become the foreign minister that would give him diplomatic immunity, shielding him from sanctions.
Bassil said Hariri changed his stance from only wanting to form a government with him, to only accepting a government that does not include him after his resignation later that year.
According to Bassil the president was contacted by a high-ranking US official asking him to cut ties with Hezbollah and to task Bassil with the matter. The next day he was directly informed that he must fulfill four demands that included cutting ties with Hezbollah, or else he would be sanctioned.
“My natural reaction was ... that I rejected it and it contradicted with a basic principle of the FPM, which is the refusal to take orders from any foreign country,” he said.
The Free Patriotic Movement head said he had refused to break his alliance with Hezbollah, citing that isolation of the Shiites would lead to civil strife.
Bassil said he would never go against any Lebanese in favor of a foreigner.
“We didn’t do it in the past and will not do it now ... it will not work with us, not your airplanes, your threats, nor your punishments,” he said, addressing US officials.
“Not a word about corruption was brought up during the conversation,” Bassil added.
“Things don’t work that way ... we don’t want to be [your] agents, we want to be your friends,” Bassil said addressing US officials.
According to Bassil, he was supposed to be formally sanctioned on Oct. 25, however he was given a 24-hour deadline when he was visited on Nov. 4, one day after the fierce presidential elections were held, to only end its alliance with Hezbollah, with the other three demands dropped.
The US Treasury officially blacklisted Bassil under the Magnitsky Act on Nov. 6 for corruption and embezzlement among other crimes. He was the first Lebanese official to be sanctioned under that act.
“They were concerned with me in the middle of the American election result announcements,” Bassil said.
He added that the “crime committed by the current administration” against him should be investigated and the reasons that prompted the hastily announced decision after they confirmed that they would lose the election.
He congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their win, adding that he looked forward to developing a relationship with the new administration.