Swiss banks have been like Heaven on Earth for some Lebanon’s “creme de la creme” for a long, long time. Will it be over soon? “Intensive investigations were launched Friday (December 27) by the Central Criminal Investigations Bureau, under direct supervision by State Prosecutor Ghassan Ouweidat,” a judicial source told Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.
The story started with Lebanese economist Marwan Iskandar’s revelations. His Swiss official source has told him the transferred amounts: $2 billion belonging to “nine Lebanese politicians.” Iskandar told Asharq al-Awsat that the money “was normally transferred and not smuggled as being rumored.” But why? And what would be the sources of the transferred funds? Illegal enrichment? Corruption? Lebanese citizens have the right to know.
“What’s dangerous is that the sums were transferred over the past 15 days, during the peak of the liquidity crisis,” Marwan Iskandar added. “The Swiss parliament has started a serious probe into the issue and it will publicize the results of this investigation once it is finished, and I don’t believe that the Lebanese side will obtain information before the end of the Swiss probe..
Lebanese people probably won’t see this money coming back to Lebanese banks to fuel the economy. Previous examples, worldwide, prevent any optimism. “There is major difficulty in recovering funds sent abroad,” Marwan Iskandar said. Philippines failed to get back $2.5 billion transferred by Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1986. Thirty three years later, Filipinos still wait to retrieve the stolen money. A more recent example in the Middle East history: the amount sent abroad by ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Never recovered.
Do Lebanese authorities really care?
Meanwhile, acting Lebanese authorities fake to pretend not to know what happened in the past 15 days. “We will take all necessary legal measures to find out if such big transfers were made by Lebanese politicians or not,” Lebanon Central bank Riad Salameh said during a meeting with caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. Salameh’s remarks came following an announcement by Iskandar that he was informed by a Swiss reporter that the Swiss Parliament was investigating into the transfers of over 2 billion U.S. dollars.
Lebanon has witnessed in the past few months a shortage in the U.S. dollars due to an economic slowdown and the drop in cash injections from Lebanese abroad, reducing the central bank’s foreign currency reserves and leading to a shortage in dollar for businesses and individuals.
Hence, banks put restrictions on withdrawals of depositors and their transfers from Lebanese pounds to U.S. dollars. But all Lebanese citizens are not equal before the law. As usual, the gossips may say.