The Lebanese banking sector is once more back to the limelight with EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove placing it on his agenda in a series of meetings he is to hold with a number of Lebanese officials to track down Hezbollah’s money, according to a report published by the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.
Kerchove’s visit to Lebanon is the culmination of pressure exercised on the country’s banking sector, the last chapter of which was a report issued by the U.S.-based non-governmental organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
The report, published in Wall Street Journal, accused the Lebanese banking sector of laundering Hezbollah’s money and of not abiding by the international sanctions imposed on Iran and Syria.
The Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice requested to track down Shiite businessman Adnan Hassan Tajeddine and gain access to his bank accounts. Tajeddine, who filed for bankruptcy in the United States, is accused of smuggling Hezbollah money.
Joseph Torbey, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, refuted claims that the banking sector in Lebanon in not abiding by international sanctions and called attempts at tightening the noose on it a conspiracy against Lebanon.
“This is a campaign launched by a non-governmental organization that has no official status to begin with,” he told Al Arabiya.
What helps this campaign, he added, is the publication of reports against the Lebanese banking sectors in prominent newspapers, which endow them with credibility.
“But at the end, there is no proof that claims in these reports are true.”
Torbey denied that the Lebanese banking sector is in danger and assured all investors and clients that their money is safe.
“The Lebanese banking sector is at its best and is witnessing remarkable growth.”
Torbey downplayed the effect of UANI’s demand that American and European companies withdraw their investments from the Lebanese stock market and the fact that three companies have already done so and more are expected to follow.
“The stock market is about selling and buying. If those companies sold their shares, others bought them. The banking sector was not affected by this.”
Torbey refuted claims by UANI that Lebanon has any financial dealings with Iran, especially the ones related to smuggled weapons, and stressed that the Lebanese banking sector has very strict policies against money laundry.
Regarding the measures taken against Tajeddine, Torbey said that this is a normal procedure that has been done with several Lebanese Shiite businessmen.
“Tajeddine is not the first Lebanese businessman the U.S. Department of Justice is after for money laundering allegations.”
Torbey explained that last month, sanctions were imposed on five Lebanese businessmen charged with money laundering.
“This is a purely financial matter that happens a lot in the international banking sector and has nothing to do with sectarian or political affiliations. If Tajeddine has any ties with Hezbollah, this is a coincidence.”
Torbey added that because Tejeddine filed for bankruptcy, his banking confidentiality prerogative is lifted and the investigating body has the right to gain access to his accounts.
“Banque du Liban has the right to give the International Community information about Tajeddine’s accounts after investigating the charges leveled against him. If he goes bankrupt, his banking confidentiality falls.”