George Washington once said: “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pain taken to bring it to light”. It is unequivocal that the pain has been, repeatedly and valiantly taken; it is time for the truth to be brought to light: Long before the October 17 uprising and the recent convoluted economic blunders, Gebran Bassil, Head of the Free Patriotic Movement, was the first (and only) politician to lead the way in launching a serious and diligent effort to fight corruption.
On February 3, 2019, during a press conference, Bassil identified the electricity sector and solid waste management as two areas that need the Cabinet’s immediate attention (New Lebanese Government Must End Corruption, Al Bawaba). Lebanon had already completed the studies and determined the solutions for the electricity problem, but in his opinion, corruption and government inefficiency have stood in the way. He also pressed the government to open suspicious cases, even if it meant imprisoning officials, as this is the only way to restore the trust of the people.
On March 5, 2019, when faced with insinuations that some corrupt politicians might seek protection from their sect, Gebran Bassil criticized the theory, stressed that no corrupt official should enjoy “sectarian protection”, and explained that the real battle is against no one but rather to eradicate rampant corruption. He then presented three essential laws for fighting corruption: lifting parliamentary immunity, lifting bank secrecy and recovering stolen funds (Bassil Slams ‘Sectarian Protection’ for Corrupts, Proposes Anti-Graft Laws, Naharnet).
Bassil’s mission did not stop there. On March 17, he threatened to topple the government over the files of corruption, which led to a political dispute between the members of the Strong Lebanon Bloc and the Future Movement (FPM Threatens to Topple Lebanese Govt. over Corruption, Refugee Files, Asharq Al-Awsat).
On July 26, 2019, Gebran Bassil held a press conference at the FPM Headquarters presented the beginning of the law on lifting bank secrecy and then the law to lift immunity from employees (Lebanon’s Strong Bloc separates the proposal of the restoration of the looted money, Al Markaziya). Bassil further explained that the Strong Lebanon Bloc had been working on introducing and implementing this law for three months; an effort that will not be deterred under any circumstances. On how to recover looted money and the process that will be followed, Bassil said: First, by placing legal holds on records, real estate and non-real estate properties, as well as accounts stolen by bank secrecy. Second, the crime does not have a statute of limitations and is not absolved when the money is transferred to any other person by any means. Similarly, no immunity, prior authorization, or bank secrecy can be invoked in the course of judicial prosecution to recover the looted funds.
On July 30, 2019, members of the Strong Lebanon Bloc proposed a law to restore Lebanon’s looted public funds. The proposal included the signatures of deputies Gebran Bassil, Roger Azar, Alan Aoun, Nicola Sahnawi, Simon Abi Ramia, Salim Aoun, Cesar Abi Khalil, Edgard Traboulsi, Michel Moawad and Farid Al Bustani (Lebanon is about Recovering Looted Money, Arabeconomicsnews). The articles are:
Article 1 – Contrary to any standard provision, the Lebanese treasury shall confiscate transferable and untransferable funds, which are found by a concluded court order, to be the result of crimes committed by a permanent or interim public service provider, in breach of the duties of the post or resulting from forging state seals, official labels, official bonds, and coins, as specified in the Penal Code, and all other crimes stipulated in Article 1 of the fighting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Law No. 44 of 24/11/2015, that includes criminalization, conviction, participation, attempt, and incitement.
Article 2 – A prosecution hold shall be put on all transferable and untransferable funds of the suspect, if available, by a decision of the prosecution judge.
Article 3 – Offenses are not affected by statutes of limitations or discontinuation from public service for any reason, and confiscation is not prevented by the transmission of the transferable and untransferable funds mentioned above to a third party, and the prosecution and conviction include recipients of illegal transferred funds, by possession or any other means of transfer, in the event that the criminal involvement is proven by a final judicial ruling, provided that the criminal’s participation is established in the event that this money is transferred to the spouses, assets and branches. But if the third person is well-intentioned, then the funds are not confiscated but their holdings illegally obtained by the public servant in accordance with the provisions of this law, and in the absence of holdings a fine is imposed, set as double the value of the embezzled money, as determined in the judgment of conviction.
Article 4 – Taking into account the constitutional immunities and the mechanisms for prosecution and trials stipulated in the constitution, it is not permitted to invoke any immunity, prior permission, or bank secrecy, through the processes of prosecution, investigation, judgment, or crimes covered by this law, provided that the “Special Investigation Commission” stipulated in Article 6 of Law No. 44/2015 takes appropriate decisions in accordance with the aforementioned law upon the first request issued by the Discriminatory Public Prosecution on its own initiative, or at the request of any of its affiliated public prosecutors or from the Public Prosecutor at the Audit Bureau.
Article 5 – The jurisdiction of the trial is limited to criminal courts in accordance with the ratione loci jurisdiction, provided that appeals against its decisions are accepted in accordance with criminal laws.
Article 6 – Any public servant convicted under this law loses his/her job and all its compensations, which become acquired rights of the Public Treasury. The judge has the right to deprive convicted public servants of their civil and political rights for a period ranging from ten to twenty years.
Article 7 – Any permanent or interim public servant may be subject to a process of evaluation of his/her transferable or untransferable funds of all kinds, determined by a special law that the government must implement within three months of the publication of this law.
Article 8 – The transferable and untransferable funds recovered by the public treasury under this law shall be allocated exclusively for the purpose of resolving the public debt.
Furthermore, on October 29, 2019, following the position of President Michel Aoun and within the context of the measure taken by FPM President Gebran Bassil two years earlier by lifting the bank secrecy off his bank accounts, all FPM deputies and Ministers signed a letter, ratified by notary publics, to lift bank secrecy off their bank accounts (FPM Officials Lift Bank Secrecy, ASharq Al Awsat). The main goal was to establish a system of laws relating to corruption, which would include the recovery of looted funds, lifting immunity and banking secrecy, in order to recover looted funds and grants and hold the corrupt and thieves accountable. However, the FPM move was not feasible: Article 2 of the Banking Secrecy Act protects the customer from any exposure to his/her privacy, unless he/she issued a clear, specific and direct permission for this purpose. The solution to this matter, according to the head of Justicia Foundation, Dr. Paul Morcos, is the issuance of “a new law amending the bank secrecy law currently in force to include the lifting of bank secrecy automatically off the accounts of all officials, whether MPs, ministers or other officials and the accounts of their close relatives.”
In the din of criticism, opposition, and violence, the Free Patriotic Movement continues to pave the way toward changing and reforming Lebanon, because what people are is what they repeatedly do and thus, excellence is not an act but rather a habit.
-Bassil Slams ‘Sectarian Protection’ for Corrupts, Proposes Anti-Graft Laws, March 5, 2019, Naharnet. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/257256
– FPM Threatens to Topple Lebanese Govt. over Corruption, Refugee Files, March 17, 2019, ASharq Al-Awsat. https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1637961/fpm-threatens-topple-lebanese-govt-over-corruption-refugee-files
– FPM Officials Lift Bank Secrecy, October 29, 2019, ASharq Al-Awsat. https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1966446/fpm-officials-lift-bank-secrecy?amp
-Lebanon is about Recovering Looted Money, July 30, 2019, Arabeconomicnews. https://www.arabeconomicnews.com/details/211787
-Lebanon ‘s Strong Bloc Separates the Proposal of the Restoration of the Looted Money, July 26, 2019, Al Markaziya. https://www.almarkazia.com/ar/news/show/140634
– New Lebanese Government Must End Corruption, February 3, 2019, Al Bawba. https://www.albawaba.com/news/new-lebanese-govt-must-end-corruption-fm-gibran-bassil-1247204