U.S. Sanctions Lebanese MP and Two Businessmen

A Lebanese MP and two businessmen were sanctioned by the U.S. on Thursday for their alleged involvement in corruption that has contributed to the “breakdown of the rule of law” in Lebanon. 

 

jamilJamil Sayyed (By Primegcc - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0) The move aims to hold to account the country’s business and political elite who have “benefitted from improper tendering practices for inflated contracts and a pervasive culture of cronyism that undermines Lebanon’s institutions, rule of law, and economic stability,” the Department of Treasury statement announcing the designations said.

Jamil Sayyed, a current MP, was sanctioned for allegedly, and with the aid of a senior government official, transferring over US$120 million abroad, to “enrich himself and his associates.”

Sayyed, who allegedly “sought to skirt domestic banking policies and regulations” while conducting the transfer, addressed the allegations in a press conference Friday, asking for evidence and documentation of the $120 million transfer - asking “when and how?”

The MP also questioned why he, but not the Central Bank Governor Riad Salame, was sanctioned, despite the latter having investigations opened against him in Switzerland and France, regarding a $350 million transfer, among other things.   

Sayyed, along with businessmen Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury, were accused of having “personally profited from the pervasive corruption and cronyism in Lebanon, enriching themselves at the expense of the Lebanese people and state institutions,” the Treasury said. 

Jihad al-Arab, a politically-connected businessman, was sanctioned for kickbacks in relation to a series of public contracts awarded to him since as early as 2014, including two worth over $200 million.

Another worth $288 million was awarded to al-Arab in 2016, for the construction of a landfill to address the garbage crisis. And yet three years later the situation “remained urgent,” and remains ongoing to this day. Within the same contract his company was later found to have “added water to garbage containers to inflate their billable weight,” the Treasury said. 

Businessman Dany Khoury, a close associate of sanctioned Lebanese politician Gibran Bassil, was designated by the Treasury for financially benefiting millions of dollars from public contracts without fulfilling their terms. 

Like al-Arab, Khoury was also awarded a contract in 2016 to address the garbage crisis, but instead allegedly discarded the toxic waste into the Mediterranean Sea, polluting the beaches while the crisis persisted, according to the statement. 

Anthon Blinken called the sanctions “an important step in promoting accountability in Lebanon,” adding that “Lebanese officials must end corruption and take urgent action to address the crises the Lebanese people face.” 

OFAC Director Andrea M. Gacki echoed these sentiments, saying that “now is the time to implement necessary economic reforms and put an end to the corrupt practices eroding Lebanon’s foundations,” while also warning that “Treasury will not hesitate to use its tools to address impunity in Lebanon.”

“The Lebanese people deserve an end to the endemic corruption perpetuated by businessmen and politicians who have driven their country into an unprecedented crisis,” she said.