search

US expands Hezbollah sanctions, targeting allied Lebanese Christian leader

New measures hit Gebran Bassil, a lawmaker who leads the largest bloc in parliament and a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, accusing him of corruption

In this June 13, 2018 file photo, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil pauses during a news conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in Arsal, near the border with Syria, east Lebanon. The US treasury slapped sanctions Friday, Nov. 6, 2020,  on Lebanon's ex-foreign minister and a leading Christian political ally of the Hezbollah group, according to the Treasury's website. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this June 13, 2018 file photo, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil pauses during a news conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in Arsal, near the border with Syria, east Lebanon. The US treasury slapped sanctions Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, on Lebanon's ex-foreign minister and a leading Christian political ally of the Hezbollah group, according to the Treasury's website. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT  — The US Treasury on Friday slapped sanctions on Lebanon’s former foreign minister and a leading Christian political ally of the Hezbollah terror group, singling him out for what it said was his role in corruption.

Gebran Bassil, a lawmaker who leads the largest bloc in parliament and a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, has emerged as a major target of Lebanese protesters who thronged streets in an uprising last year over endemic corruption and state mismanagement.

The Treasury designation did not mention Bassil’s alliance or links to Hezbollah, but the sanctions targeting him appeared to be part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its allies in the region.

The United States has been sanctioning Hezbollah officials for years, and recently began targeting politicians close to the group. In September, the Treasury imposed sanctions on two former Lebanese cabinet ministers allied with the terror group in a strong message to Hezbollah and its allies who control majority seats in the parliament.

Friday’s announcement is a major expansion of the scope of sanctions targeting Hezbollah’s political partners in Lebanon.

Supporters of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah salute as they stand behind motorcycles carrying the Shiite movement’s flags in the southern Lebanese district of Marjayoun on the border with Israel, May 25, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

“The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people,” said US Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Immediately after the designation, Bassil tweeted that the sanctions do not frighten him. “I have gotten used to injustice and learned from our history: It is our fate in this Orient to carry our cross every day … in order to survive,” he tweeted.

The announcement came as the world anxiously awaited the result of US elections and Donald Trump’s pathway to reelection appeared to shrink.

It also comes as former prime minister Saad Hariri is struggling to form a new government in Lebanon, which has been hit by the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

Bassil has held several high-level posts in the Lebanese government, serving as the minister of telecommunications, energy and water and as foreign minister at various intervals over the past two decades. He also heads the Free Patriotic Movement, the Christian party founded by Aoun.

The Treasury designation described him as being “at the forefront of corruption” in Lebanon, accusing him of being involved in approving several projects that would have steered Lebanese government funds to individuals close to him through a group of front companies, while minister of energy in 2014.

Bassil was targeted under the Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012 initially in response to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after exposing a tax fraud scheme involving Russian officials. The law named after him was expanded and allows the US to target any foreigner accused of human rights violations.

read more:
comments