Rear View – Lebanon in review (2 May 2021)
27 April: Lebanese-owned Moderna ranked in Most Influential Companies in 2021
28 April: Central Bank chief defends himself as Government launches probe
Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank chief, defended his behaviour in a televised address last week only days before a public prosecutor launched a probe into illegal activities by him and his brother.
In the face of a currency collapse, soaring inflation and stinging criticism from Hezbollah and its allies, Salameh came out fighting defending his record, promised savers their money was secure, and blamed successive governments for financial profligacy.
“Yes, the central bank financed the state, but it is not the one that spent the money,” Salameh said. “We must know who did. There are constitutional and administrative institutions that have a mission to reveal their spending.”
Days later a senior judicial source told reporters that the offices of Salameh’s younger brother Raja had been sealed off, with computers and files confiscated in the course of an investigation launched by Lebanon’s public prosecutor.
The probe follows a Swiss government request for legal assistance from Lebanon as they pursue evidence alleging “aggravated money laundering” citing over $300 million that had been embezzled from the central bank through a company owned by Salameh’s brother.
29 April: France Bans Politicians Blocking Government Formation
The French government has upped the ante in Lebanon announcing travel bans against any Lebanese politicians suspected of corruption and blocking government formation and has also threatened sanctions as a secondary measure.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made it clear that sanctions are still on the table. “We reserve the possibility to adopt additional measures toward all those who are hindering a solution to the crisis,” he said.
In March, a French diplomat told a local newspaper that Western authorities including France and the United States were considering imposing sanctions to increase pressure on Lebanese officials.
Lebanon is nearing its tenth month without a government and more than six months since Saad Hariri was nominated Prime Minister-designate and tasked with forming a government.
30 April: Lebanon-Israel maritime border talks to resume
Months after they stalled, indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel over their disputed maritime border are to resume next week, according to a US-mediating team official. The US State Department said the team, led by Ambassador John Desrocher, would resume talks on 4 May 2021. The resumption of talks would be “…a positive step toward a long-awaited resolution.”
Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides. The negotiations first began last in October and stopped a few weeks later. They were the first non-security talks between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860sq km of the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Officials in Lebanon, which is going through its worst economic crisis, hope its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its troubles.
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