BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Rai voiced outrage and blasted Ad-Diyar newspaper over the weekend after it published excerpts from a book claiming he had been blackmailed by Syria with a series of “illicit recordings” while still a bishop under his predecessor Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.
The local newspaper, which said it had published the controversial excerpts Saturday in order to warn the prelate, threatened Sunday to release the recordings mentioned in Antoine Basbous’ book should Rai continue “offending” the newspaper.
“These are lies and aim to mislead the public,” Rai said Saturday, referring to the Ad-Diyar article quoting the excerpts from the book by Basbous, who the paper said had been a former member of the Lebanese Forces but now a close advisor to Paris.
In the book excerpts, Basbous tries to address what he sees as a shift in the Maronite Church’s policies following the election of Rai to the top post of the influential establishment earlier this year.
Basbous alleges that the late Ghazhi Kanaan, who was a leading Syrian security official in Lebanon during the Syrian presence in the country, had sought allies at the Maronite Church to oppose then Patriarch Sfeir for his firm stances against Damascus and had found a willing ally in Rai.
The book claims Rai had greeted Kanaan on several occasions at the archbishopric in Amshit near Jbeil, where on one occasion eavesdropping devices had been planted.
Basbous goes on to claim that Rai had met Kanaan following a summons to Anjar and that during the meeting the Syrian official blackmailed the bishop with “illicit recordings” from the archbishopric in Jbeil. Rai was so distraught by the episode that he did not leave his abode for three days, Basbous said, suggesting that the contents of the recordings were undoubtedly very damaging to the bishop.
In response to the article, Rai denied Saturday having met Kanaan in Anjar, reiterating that “such talk is all lies.”
The religious leader acknowledged that Kanaan had visited him at the offices of the archbishopric in Jbeil, “but the next day I notified Patriarch Sfeir and the bishops. I also informed the three heads [president, Parliament speaker and prime minister] at that time about the details of the meeting. The story ended there.”
In the strongly worded rebuke to Ad-Diyar, Rai asked: “How can a newspaper allow itself to issue such an [article]? Has it no dignity?”
“How can we read this paper after today?” Rai, who had met with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, asked.
“My lord I was shocked. I will not respond anymore to them and I will not read them [either],” Rai added.
On Sunday Ad-Diyar said it was willing to send Rai the recordings mentioned in the excerpts of the book it published over the weekend but warned it would be forced to release the recording should he continued to “offend” the paper.
"We say to the patriarch that we will not release the contents of the recordings no matter what. Instead we will send it to him in a sealed envelope. But if he decides to continue offending Ad-Diyar, then, for the sake of our credibility and as Christians testifying on rightful matters, we would be forced to release the tape,” the paper said in its editorial opening Sunday.
"Once more, we advise you to prosecute the French publication house and the author before the book reaches the Lebanese market,” it added.