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memri
May 30, 2016 No.
6452

London-Based 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat': Lebanese Government Paying Salaries Of Hizbullah MPs, Ministers In Cash To Bypass Potential American Sanctions

On May 29, 2016, the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on attempts by the Lebanese government to bypass the new U.S. sanctions recently imposed on Hizbullah. Citing Lebanese sources, including Hizbullah sources within the Lebanese parliament, the daily wrote that for the past two months the Lebanese finance ministry has been paying the salaries of Hizbullah ministers and MPs in cash in contrast to the payment method it uses when paying the country's other MPs and ministers. [1]    It should be noted that Lebanese banks recently closed accounts of several Hizbullah ministers and MPs in compliance with the U.S. sanctions.

In December 2015, U.S. Congress passed the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act, aimed at curtailing the organization's funding of its domestic and international activities, and also at combatting its global criminal activities - including money laundering, drug trafficking, and human trafficking - by which it funds the terror operations that it carries out worldwide.[2] The law bars any "foreign financial institution" that engages in transactions with Hizbullah or with persons or bodies affiliated with it, or which provides them with financial services or launder money for them, from maintaining a relationship with the U.S. banking system. This means that any bank in the world, including in Lebanon, that provides financial services to the organization will be denied access to U.S. financial institutions - and thus to the global financial sector. The ramifications of this are far-reaching and can lead these banks to collapse. The law also imposes sanctions and penalties (fines, imprisonment or both) on individuals or bodies that violate its provisions. It came into effect on April 15, 2016, after the U.S. Treasury issued regulations for its implementation; the Treasury also published a list of some 100 bodies and figures associated with Hizbullah with whom financial institutions may not conduct dealings.[3]

A MEMRI report from May 17, 2016 reviewed Hizbullah's furious responses to these sanctions and its attempts to fight them by reaching understandings with the governor of Lebanon's central bank: As Lebanon's Banks Begin To Implement U.S. Sanctions Against Hizbullah, Hizbullah Criticizes Banking Sector, Warns Of Chaos In Lebanon And More 'Actions Against The American Takeover Plan'

 
Assistant secretary Glaser meets with Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil (Source: Nna-leb.gov.lb, May 26, 2016)

U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary Daniel Glaser: The Law Does Not Distinguish Among Hizbullah Members It Applies Equally To MPs, Ministers

A delegation on behalf of the U.S. Treasury, headed by the Treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, Daniel Glaser, recently visited Beirut and met with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Al-Mustaqbal faction chair and former Lebanese prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, Finance Minister 'Ali Hassan Khalil, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and with the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) and central bank governor Riad Salameh. Glaser also met with Lebanese General Security chief 'Abbas Ibrahim, who is known for his ties with Hizbullah. A statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut at the close of the visit stated that Glaser had encouraged the Lebanese authorities and banks to keep up their efforts to combat terrorist financing and prevent attempts to evade the U.S. sanctions.[4]

In an interview with the Lebanese LBC channel during his visit, Glaser expressed his confidence that central bank governor Salameh understands both the Lebanese financial system and the U.S. law, adding that Salameh has been an excellent and responsible partner. Glaser stated that the purpose of his visit was to discuss the implementation of the U.S. law, and stressed that the law was not meant to target the Shi'ite community or any other community in Lebanon, but only Hizbullah. Asked whether the sanctions would apply to Hizbullah ministers and MPs,  Glaser said that the law does not "make a distinction between Hizbullah members. The law is very clear. If you engage knowingly in a significant financial transaction with Hizbullah, then you become subject to this law."[5]   It was in this context that the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published the notice about the cash salary payments to Hizbullah ministers and MPs as mechanism to bypass any American sanction targeting them.

Hizbullah Furious At Central Bank Governor For Ignoring Its Demands

In this context, it should be noted that Hizbullah's relations with central bank governor Riad Salameh remain strained over the issue of the Lebanese banks' and the central bank's implementation of the U.S. law. On May 27, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, reported that the organization was furious with Salameh for the new instructions he had issued to Lebanese banks on May 26 regarding the manner of compliance with the U.S. law. These instructions revoked the authorization Salameh had granted the banks in early May to immediately close any suspicious bank account at their own discretion. Instead, the regulations require the banks to inform the central bank of their intention to close an account, and then allow 30 days for the central bank to oppose the move if it deems it necessary. On the face of it, Hizbullah should have been pleased with these new regulations, which are in line with its demand to prevent what it calls the arbitrary application of the law. However, according to Al-Akhbar, the organization is displeased because Salameh "ignored its two basic demands." The first demand was that the banks be explicitly required to allow 30 days for the central bank to review each request, with an option of a 30-day extension. The second demand was that the law be applied retroactively to all Hizbullah accounts that have been closed since April 2016, meaning that the central bank would reexamine the decision to close them. Salameh indeed disregarded these two demands, to Hizbullah's chagrin.[6]

Shi'ite Business Owners Feeling The Weight Of The Sanctions; Hizbullah May Direct Its Public  To Boycott Lebanese Banks

The pro-Hizbullah dailies Al-Akhbar and Al-Safir noted recently that one of the options available to Hizbullah is to instruct the members of its public to boycott the banks - which according to Hizbullah are being overzealous in implementing the U.S. law - by withdrawing all their funds from them. According to Al-Safir, these bank                   accounts represent a 30-40% share of the economy. [7]  

In the meantime, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Shi'ite business owners, especially in the Dahiya, a Hizbullah stronghold in south Beirut, are beginning to feel the weight of the sanctions. According to the daily, these dealers are questioned about every sum of money entering their accounts from abroad, and in many cases the transfer is refused, forcing them to rely on business partners, especially Christian ones.[8]  

 

Endnotes: 

 

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 29, 2016.

[2] On Hizbullah's involvement in global drug trafficking, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1227, Hizbullah's International Drug Network Preoccupies Europe, February 9, 2016.

[3] Congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2297.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), may 29, 2016.

[5] Lbcgroup.tv, May 27, 2016; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 28, 2016.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 27, 2016.

[7] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 19, 2016; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 18, 2016.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 29, 2016.