BEIRUT: Fifty-five civil servants are being investigated for corruption as part of a widespread crackdown on dishonest real estate dealings, including the theft of public property and embezzlement, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said Monday.
“There is an increasing number of cases related to bribes and embezzlement by clerks in real estate departments as many citizens now have to pay more to finish their paperwork and forcing the government to lose millions of dollars throughout the years,” Khalil said in a televised news conference at his ministry.
"After the rise of complaints and as a result of investigation into reported violations, we now have dozens of documents that prove the involvement of employees in these departments in corruption.”
He said he referred “55 employees in real estate departments including surveyors to investigation,” including several high-ranking officials, stressing that Finance Ministry employees no longer enjoyed any form of immunity.
He also said there were many cases of public money being illegally transferred to the personal accounts of employees.
Khalil’s crackdown tackles the almost taken-for-granted practices of public sector employees, primarily surveyors, accepting bribes to speed up paperwork and estimate property at a lower price or at a larger size, which at times extends to public property.
“One surveyor’s house cost $6 million. How is that possible?” Khalil asked, saying the state had lost much property to such illegal practices.
"Millions of meters belonging to the state are now the private property of either people or suspicious companies,” he said.
Khalil said that many citizens took advantage of the 2006 war in Lebanon to identify and register property in their names, most of which were state-owned.
"How can a grandfather inherit from his son? Or his grandchildren?” referring to suspicious transfers between relatives during the war.
To address these concerns, Khalil said he issued a decision in the ministry to stop all ongoing paperwork in the real estate departments for three months for citizens to resubmit their files.
“I have also spoken to the Justice Ministry to follow up on these documents,” he said, adding that an additional 29 files had been referred to the Office of the Financial Prosecutor.
He also said he would form a committee to follow up on all complaints filed by citizens.