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Lebanon’s SIC lifts banking secrecy on 24 accounts

A chart showing the cases that were investigated and lifted by the authorites

BEIRUT: Lebanon waived its banking secrecy laws 24 times in cases that involved money laundering and terrorist funding in 2012, the Special Investigation Commission said in a report Monday.

The SIC, which was set up more than 10 years ago to crack down on money laundering and all types of suspicious financial transactions, said it received 284 cases of suspicious financial irregularities in 2012 but only 191, 67.3 percent, were eventually investigated.

The commission did not release the names and nationalities of the individuals and firms involved nor did they publish the total value of these cases.

The SIC said that some of the cases that it investigated involved corruption and embezzlement, stressing that it treats all cases it receives with utmost importance.

The Central Bank, SIC and prosecution offices have been waging a relentless crackdown on any suspicious money laundering, terrorist funding and all types of financial irregularities.

Despite the efforts of the SIC and the Central Bank, the United States and some European countries still view the country’s banking secrecy law with suspicion, although these nations have not tried aggressively to force the annulment of the law.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has said that Lebanon would handle any suspicious financial case that comes to its attention but would not remove the banking secrecy law at any cost.

The SIC said that out of the 191 investigated cases 126 were local and the rest were foreign.

Abdul Hafiz Mansour, the head of SIC, said 99 cases that were investigated originated from foreign sources.

He added that the Lebanese authorities were asked to amend the law governing Halawa transactions, an Islamic type of money transfer.

But Mansour did not explicitly say if this request was accepted by the Lebanese financial authorities.

He added that the Lebanese authorities had been closely working with the international Financial Action Task Force and other organizations that that are specialized in anti-money-laundering activity.

SIC said it investigated eight cases involving terrorism funding but did not elaborate or give any hint about the nature of these cases or the groups and individuals who were investigated.

Lebanon is obliged to accept the request of the United Nations Security Council to investigate or freeze the accounts of terrorist organizations.

The Lebanese authorities also cooperate with U.S. financial authorities and the case of the defunct Lebanese-Canadian Bank is the best example of this close cooperation.

In February 2012, the Central Bank, at the request of the U.S. Treasury, persuaded the management of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank to sell its assets and liabilities to another local bank.

The Lebanese-Canadian Bank was charged with money laundering and funding of terrorist groups, charges vehemently denied by the management of this bank, which was sold to SGBL.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2013, on page 5.

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