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Lebanon ex-FM says US told him: Repudiate Hezbollah or face corruption sanctions

Gebran Bassil calls Treasury Department measures against him a ‘crime,’ vows to appeal decision

Lebanon's then Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil addresses a press conference after a signing ceremony of a diplomatic cooperation agreement in Budapest, Hungary, on November 26, 2019. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP)
Lebanon's then Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil addresses a press conference after a signing ceremony of a diplomatic cooperation agreement in Budapest, Hungary, on November 26, 2019. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s former foreign minister Gebran Bassil on Sunday said the United States had urged him to sever ties with Shiite movement Hezbollah before targeting him with sanctions over alleged corruption.

The punitive measures announced Friday are the first against a senior Christian ally of Hezbollah, long targeted by US sanctions and blacklisted as a terrorist organization.

Bassil in a televised statement said the US embassy informed him he “should immediately comply with four demands or US sanctions would be implemented.”

“Throughout all this discussion, the word corruption was never mentioned,” the 50-year-old son-in-law of Lebanon’s president added.

A Hezbollah supporter chants slogans as he holds the terror group’s flag during a protest against US involvement in Lebanon’s affairs, near the US embassy in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, July 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

He said the first demand was for him to “immediately sever ties with Hezbollah,” which then became the only request.

He did not elaborate on the three other initial demands.

When he refused to comply, it appeared the sanctions “were linked to corruption and Hezbollah was barely mentioned, although they had not talked to me about anything but Hezbollah,” he said.

He described the measures against him as a “crime,” and said he would be directing lawyers to appeal the decision and demand “moral and material compensation” in a US court.

He spoke after his father-in-law, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, on Saturday said he had requested evidence of Bassil’s alleged wrongdoings.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The US Treasury Department said it had targeted Bassil “for his role in corruption in Lebanon,” alleging in particular that he “steered Lebanese government funds to individuals close to him through a group of front companies” as energy minister.

Bassil has been a minister in all cabinets from 2008 to 2019, most recently foreign minister in the government that stepped down under pressure from massive street protests last autumn.

He is also head of the Free Patriotic Movement political party founded by Aoun, which together with Hezbollah and other allies holds a parliamentary majority.

Critics have claimed he was behind many shady state dealings, especially during his time at the head of the energy ministry between 2009 and 2014. Bassil has repeatedly denied the accusations.

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