Yesterday, a meeting was held between respective representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Governorate of the Central Bank and the Alvarez & Marsal firm, with no tangible outcome; and it was decided to hold another meeting on Friday.
To me, this is procrastination and it affirms that there is no will to go through forensic audit.
The proof is that the Council of Ministers took the decision to conduct the audit on March 26, 2020, and that this decision is still unimplemented more than a year later.
The absence of will to implement is evidenced by the fact that negotiations were replaced with remote correspondence.
Negotiations are made directly, face to face, around a table and between the actual officials and not their proxies as it was the case yesterday; and we will still be going around in an open-ended vicious circle with no controls.
The Lebanese people are waiting to know what has become of their funds, and we fear that their lifetime savings might have been robbed and that time is now being stolen.
Before my return to Lebanon in 2005, I foresaw the danger of financial collapse. When I became the president of a parliamentary bloc, I demanded the forensic audit for the accounts of the Banque du Liban and the establishment of a special tribunal for financial crimes; and both demands were left dormant in the drawers…
After my election as President of the Republic, I tried for three years in vain to open the door of forensic audit in order to protect the people’s deposits.
The financial and monetary crisis was picking up, the indicators of collapse started to loom in July 2019 and the situation was exposed on the 17th of October.
On March 26 of last year, the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab mandated the Minister of Finance to take the necessary measures for the implementation of the forensic audit on the accounts of the Central Bank in order to know and unveil the causes of the financial and monetary deterioration.
Day after day, doubts were being confirmed that the accounts were not clear, that the size of the shortage in foreign currency reserves was unknown and that this shortage was unlawfully being covered by the depositors’ funds.
Weak excuses prevented the Council of Ministers from assigning the forensic audit to the international firm KROL; and after strenuous efforts, the Council of Ministers accepted to assign it to Alvarez & Marsal, and mandated the Minister of Finance to sign the contract with it. This is what happened indeed on September 1, 2020, namely more than five months later.
Alvarez & Marsal addressed through the Minister of Finance 133 questions to the Banque du Liban, out of which the latter answered 60 questions and refused to answer the rest under the pretext that they violated the Code of Money and Credit or that it did not have an answer.
On October 20, 2020, Alvarez reiterated the questions to the Central bank and did not get an answer.
The audit faced many hindrances that we resolved one at a time:
They used the pretense that the Code of Bank Secrecy prohibits audit; I addressed a letter to the Chamber of Deputies and the answer was that the accounts of the Banque du Liban were subject to forensic audit.
We even went further whereas the Parliament passed a new law that suspends the application of the Code of Bank Secrecy for a year.
All these steps were taken and the hindrance continued, till the Minister of Finance admitted a few days ago that the Central Bank abstained from answering a large number of Alvarez & Marsal’s questions.
It is obvious that the main goal of procrastination is to drive the firm to despair so that it leaves Lebanon, the forensic audit is doomed and the criminals go unpunished.
My fellow Lebanese,
The fall of the audit is a strike to the French initiative because without audit, there is no international assistance, no CEDRE conference, no Arab support, no Gulf support and no International Monetary Fund.
Forensic audit is the gateway to finding out who caused the crime of financial collapse.
Audit is not a personal demand of the President of the Republic; it is rather at the heart of the French initiative and the International Monetary Fund.
But before all the external factors, this is the demand of all the Lebanese:
The depositors whose deposits were looted from the bank and whose lifetime savings vanished;
The sick standing at the entrance of the hospital with no money to be admitted because their funds are “locked up” in the bank;
The students who travelled to study and were suddenly left without money transfers from their parents’ funds in Lebanon;
The parents who are no longer able to provide for their families due to the collapse and the devaluation of the Lebanese Pound (Lira);
The retired who were leaning on their end-of-service indemnity to live their last years in dignity.
I am Michel Aoun and I say to all the Lebanese:
You may disagree with me in politics but you will always find me by your side in right.
I am ahead of you in the battle to unveil the biggest loot operation in the history of Lebanon.
Stand by me.
Put aside all your political differences.
We shall not let them rob the people, oppress a mother, humiliate a father or insult a patient.
We shall not let them undermine the forensic audit or ruin a State, a nation, a history and a future.
To the political and apolitical leaderships I say:
Your responsibility is great before God, the people and the law. What happened couldn’t have been possible hadn’t you provided a minimum cover for the Central Bank, the private banks and the Ministry of Finance.
To the Central Bank I say:
The main responsibility befalls you. You have violated the Code of Money and Credit, and you should have organized the banking practice and taken the measures to protect the people’s money in banks and imposed solvency and liquidity standards.
To the banks I say:
Your liability is obvious and you cannot run away from the truth: people entrusted you with their money and you disposed of it irresponsibly, yearning for quick profit without distributing the risks according to professional rules.
Governments, administrations, ministries, boards and committees… they are all responsible for every penny that has been wasted throughout the years, and all must be subject to forensic audit.
To the States that claim solidarity with the Lebanese people, demand transparency in the Banque du Liban and the banking sector, as well as financial and monetary reforms, I say:
Help us disclose money transfer transactions that were considered as financial smuggling after October 17, 2019.
The foreign currency funds were transferred from Lebanon to known banks in the countries of the world.
Such transactions cannot be hidden; and if there is a decision, we are capable of knowing who wired the money of the Lebanese to the outside, and we are able to investigate and audit in view of discovering whether these funds were clean and how their owners got them, and whether it is possible to restore them.
Forensic audit is just the beginning. The battle may be harder than liberating the land. It is a battle against the corrupt and the thief, who are more dangerous than the occupier and the agent, for those who steal people’s money can steal a nation.
Beware! Undermining forensic audit is a blow to the decision of the government on which I call to hold an extraordinary meeting in view of taking the proper decision to protect people’s deposits, unveil the causes of the collapse and define responsibilities in preparation for accountability and the recovery of rights.
I am Michel Aoun, the President of the Republic.
I am Michel Aoun, the General that you know.
I call on you, not to stand up for me, but to stand up for yourselves and for the future of your children. Together, let us unveil the facts to restore the right, and then we will have plenty of time for political differences.
Yes for forensic audit, so that you and Lebanon can live long!