Judge extends subpoena after Banque du Liban governor skips hearing

Lebanese Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 15 February 2022

Judge extends subpoena after Banque du Liban governor skips hearing

  • Aoun has sought to interrogate Salameh as a witness in several cases alleging financial impropriety

BEIRUT: Judge Ghada Aoun, the state prosecutor of Mount Lebanon, indefinitely extended on Tuesday a subpoena issued earlier this month for Banque du Liban Gov. Riad Salameh after he failed to appear at a hearing.

Aoun has sought to interrogate Salameh as a witness in several cases alleging financial impropriety.

The subpoena is related to a criminal lawsuit filed against Salameh by a group called “The People Want to Reform the System” who accuse the governor of “illegal enrichment,” “money laundering,” and “wasting public funds.”

Lebanese State Security personnel sent to the central bank’s headquarters in Ras Beirut and to Salameh’s house in Rabieh were denied entry by members of the Internal Security Forces.

It was the fourth hearing set by Aoun, who is affiliated to the Free Patriotic Movement, to question Salameh, who did not attend under the pretext that he had previously submitted a request to have Aoun removed from the case.

Salameh’s nearly three decades at the helm of the central bank have come under increased scrutiny since the country’s financial meltdown in 2019.

He is being investigated in Lebanon and several European country’s, including Switzerland, for alleged money laundering and embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars at the BDL — allegations he has repeatedly denied.

In a TV statement, Aoun said she “will keep prosecuting BDL Gov. Riad Salameh until he is brought to justice.”

The group that filed the lawsuit against Salameh accused Maj.-Gen. Imad Othman, director general of the Internal Security Forces, of “violating the law by protecting the governor, and rebelling against the judicial order issued against him.”

It added that “the state security agents are responsible for the execution of the summons. However, Maj-Gen. Othman, his officers and his generals have committed a cold-blooded crime that automatically deprives them of any functional immunity.”

The group, which includes a number of lawyers active in the civil movement, said they decided to “lodge a personal lawsuit against Othman and his agents, who have confronted the security of the state.”

A judicial source told Arab News: “Judge Aoun is the one violating the laws. The public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, had previously removed her from cases related to important financial crimes, referring them to judicial inspection last April. However, no decision has been taken yet because of the difficulty of voting within this body due to political interference.”

The judicial source clarified that “Judge Aoun violates the law by issuing a subpoena against the BDL governor, as he is not a defendant but a witness. How does she give herself the right to issue a subpoena against him? Salameh’s representatives had previously submitted a request to have Aoun removed from the case, but she refused to receive the request.”

According to the source, Aoun cannot issue a subpoena in absentia against Salameh, and can only postpone the hearing.

The act of sending the State Security to places where Salameh might be found caused widespread shock in the Palace of Justice in Beirut.

The internal dispute over the BDL governor is intense between the political party of President Michel Aoun, who is trying to overthrow Salameh, and his backers.

Salameh’s camp is of the view that “Judge Aoun’s move … reflects a political decision to replace the governor with someone affiliated to the president.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, though, wants the veteran central bank chief to remain in his post while Lebanon battles its economic crisis.

Judge Aoun issued a decision to freeze all the governor’s properties and cars on Jan. 18, and imposed a travel ban on him.

The governor has been the target of a political and popular campaign against him since protests broke out in 2019 following the start of Lebanon’s economic collapse, holding him accountable for seizing people’s deposits in banks and lending to the state.

The governor, however, insists that he is working to “protect the social security of the Lebanese people and to secure their minimal needs in spite of the financial situation.”

He has said that “the problem will be solved when the parties concerned assume their responsibilities instead of holding the central bank accountable for the crises.”

Meanwhile, as political tensions rise, Hezbollah challenged the decision of the Ministry of Interior to ban the activity of a prohibited Bahraini group on Monday.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, after consulting Mikati, sent two notices last weekend to the Directorate General of Internal Security Forces and the Directorate General of Public Security to prevent two activities on Feb. 14 and 15, held by “Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society” and the “Coalition of 14 February Youth.”

The notices were sent for “failure to obtain legal authorization” and asked to “take all the necessary investigative measures to collect information about organizers, advocates and invitees.”

Neither security organization carried out the order, however.


Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Updated 20 sec ago

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

  • 3 Jewish passengers refused to travel with Arabs
  • Company: Driver swayed by ‘racist manipulation’

LONDON: An Israeli public transport firm has issued an apology after a racist incident in which 50 Palestinian workers were removed from a bus following complaints from Jewish customers. 

The incident in Tel Aviv sparked controversy after reports that three Jewish passengers boarded in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of the city and refused to share the bus with Arabs. 

The bus firm, Tnufa, said one of the Jewish passengers conned the driver into believing that he was an official from the Transport Ministry, and threatened the driver.

Israelis and Palestinians use the bus to go to and from the West Bank, the BBC reported, adding that Israeli law prohibits segregated services.

Tnufa said the driver was inexperienced and had been swayed by “racist manipulation.” It added that one of the Jewish passengers falsely claimed that the Transport Ministry had ordered that Arabs needed to be kicked off the route.

“The new driver said he argued with the imposter, but he told him that he could lose his job or receive a large fine if he did not follow the instructions immediately,” Tnufa said.

“The company apologises to the passengers for the unfortunate incident,” Tnufa’s CEO Mikhael Kopilovsky said in a statement, adding that “many of our drivers and workers at the company are Arabs.”


New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

Updated 10 August 2022

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

  • The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1
  • A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order”

BEIRUT: A new buyer is being sought for the first grain shipment to leave Ukraine under a hard-won deal with Russia after the original Lebanese buyer canceled its order, the Ukrainian embassy said.
The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of maize and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli at the weekend.
But now the keenly anticipated shipment is looking for a buyer after the shipping agent agreed to a request to cancel the original order in the light of the long delay in delivery.
A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order,” the Ukraine embassy said in a statement late Tuesday.
The agent is now studying alternative bids for the maize before deciding on its destination, the embassy added.
The Razoni is currently anchored off the Turkish port of Mersin, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Another ship docked in Turkey Monday with a cargo of 12,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, becoming the first to reach its destination under the deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow on its coast.
Ukraine said Monday it was “optimistic” that the millions of tons of wheat and other grain that had been trapped in its silos and ports could now be exported, in a major boost for world food supplies.

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Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Updated 10 August 2022

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

  • The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, had been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014

MOSUL: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi on Wednesday inaugurated the reconstruction of Mosul international airport, still in disrepair five years after the battle that expelled Daesh from the city.
Entire sectors of the northern metropolis have remained in ruins since the July 2017 recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led multinational coalition.
The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, has been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014.
Kadhemi, in an official ceremony at the airport on the southern outskirts of Mosul, laid the foundation stone for its renovation.
Airport director Haider Ali told AFP that the reconstruction has been assigned to two Turkish companies and is expected to take 24 months.
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants has regained a semblance of normality: shops have reopened, traffic jams are back and international agencies have been funding restoration projects for historic sites.
But huge challenges remain.
At the end of 2021, the Red Cross estimated that 35 percent of west Mosul residents and less than 15 percent in east Mosul, which bore the brunt of the fighting, have enough water to meet their daily needs.
Kadhemi, quoted in a statement issued by his office, said that “huge efforts” were being made to rebuild the city.
In January, a provincial official spoke of a $266-million budget for major reconstruction projects, notably in the health, education and transport sectors for 2021-2022, according to the state news agency INA.


Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

  • The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “childish” Wednesday claims by the United States that an Iranian satellite launched by Russia is intended for spying.
The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a “profound threat.”
“We are aware of reports that Russia launched a satellite with significant spying capabilities on Iran’s behalf,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
The head of Iran’s Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, told reporters Wednesday that the spying allegation was “basically childish.”
“Sometimes, some comments are made to incite tensions; saying that we want to spy with the Khayyam satellite... is basically childish,” he said.
“The Khayyam satellite is entirely designed and built to meet the needs of the country in crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on.”
Ahead of the launch, there was speculation that Russia might borrow Iran’s satellite temporarily to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or longer” to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.
Iran’s space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite “from day one” in an apparent reaction to the Post’s report.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, according to the space agency.
Khayyam is not the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.
In 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement.
Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.


Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

  • Navy escort flotilla was headed by the destroyer Jamaran

TEHRAN: An Iranian naval flotilla thwarted an overnight attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea, a senior commander said Wednesday.
“The escort flotilla of the naval arm of Iran’s armed forces, headed by the destroyer Jamaran... promptly deployed to the scene last night after receiving a request for help from an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, and engaged with the attacking boats,” said the navy’s deputy head of operations, Rear Admiral Mustafa Tajeddini.
“Thanks to the effective (naval) presence and after heavy exchanges, the attacking boats made off,” he told state television.
Tajeddini did not give details of the ship which was targeted or of who was suspected of mounting the attack.
In November 2021, pirates attempted to seize an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, ISNA news agency said at the time.
Two weeks earlier, an Iranian warship repelled an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden.
Like other countries dependent on the shipping lane through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, Iran stepped up its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden after a wave of attacks by Somalia-based pirates between 2000 and 2011.
But the number of attacks has fallen sharply in recent years.