| 28 May 2024, Tuesday |

U.S. State Department Arabic Language Spokesperson Griffith to SBI: “Our sanctions are message for the corrupt””

Rania Ghanem

The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two top Lebanese contractors and a lawmaker close to the Hezbollah movement over alleged large-scale corruption that undermined the rule of law in Lebanon.

Businessmen Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury, close to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Christian politician Gebran Bassil respectively, were sanctioned for alleged corruption related to state contracts. Lawmaker Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for allegedly seeking to “skirt domestic banking policies and regulations to enrich himself and his associates.

The allegations come amid an unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon blamed on years of bad policies and corruption by the ruling elite that the UN says has left three-quarters of the population affected by poverty.

Promoting accountability

 U.S. State Department Arabic Language Spokesperson Geraldine Griffith told Sawt Beirut International (SBI) in an exclusive interview that the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that these sanctions are a clear message that the US will target corruption in Lebanon. “We seek to promote accountability and stand by the Lebanese people in their demand for a government committed to carrying out its duties to address the difficulties that Lebanese are facing,” said Griffith. Lebanon is suffering from severe power and water outages and a stifling economic and financial situation. She added that the sanctioned people were chosen because of their large-scale corruption and their contribution in the suffering of the Lebanese people.


Long-term results

Griffith stressed that imposing sanctions is a legal and complicated process that requires a long time, noting that “the US is in constant contact with its partners in the government in order to gather information about political figures and businessmen to impose sanctions, and is committed to putting its efforts to target the corrupt people.”

Griffith said that she will not pre-empt any additional decisions, but assured that the US will not hesitate to use all its economic tools to boost accountability in Lebanon. Under the sanctions, all of the three men’s potential property and interests in the United States, whether bank accounts, real estate or other assets, will be frozen, according to the Treasury statement. These sanctions prevent US citizens and companies, including financial institutions with a presence in the United States, from doing business with them, limiting their ability to benefit from global financial and commercial networks.

Regarding the results of these sanctions and whether it will reflect positively on Lebanon, Griffiths said: “We will not see the results of these sanctions overnight, but they will contribute to drying up the sources of the corrupt in Lebanon in the entire political class, not just Hezbollah and his allies, but all of those who exploit the country’s resources to serve foreign agendas.”


Messages to entire political class

When Griffith was asked whether the US is sending an indirect message to Saad al-Hariri, she said: “Regardless of any political or religious affiliation, Americans are sending a message to the entire political class, not just those backed by Iran, and they want to hold the corrupt accountable, and this message is for the corrupt and all Lebanese parties and authorities to urge them to end corruption and take urgent action to address the crises the Lebanese people face, as they deserve a better life.

US and Europeans have common approach

At a time when the Europeans repeatedly announced that they would impose sanctions on some figures without taking any serious action, the United States is seeking another approach to the Lebanon file. But Griffiths said that the US, along with the international community and European countries, is seeking ways to promote accountability in Lebanon and urge the authorities to address the current crises. She added, “We have common goals with our partners in Europe, but the US position is clear. We will do everything we can do to promote accountability and support the Lebanese people in their endeavors for a transparent, impartial, capable and willing government to carry out its duties.”

Regarding the United States’ position on the current government, which Hezbollah contributed in forming it, Griffith said: “At this critical stage, our concerns are mainly about the government’s willingness to carry out its duties in order to address the shortage of electricity, water and basic public services and to address the existing difficulties. The government’s composition is a matter that belongs to the Lebanese people, we are looking on its actions, and we will judge it on the basis of those actions.”


Griffiths concluded that “the United States supports the Lebanese people who came out more than two years ago to protest endemic corruption and mismanagement of Lebanese resources. We stand with the Lebanese people and urge the Lebanese authorities to respond to their demands.” She added that Lebanese people will not see results overnight, but these sanctions will contribute to drying up the sources of funding for corrupt people, and the attempt to circumvent the sanctions is a clear evidence of its success.


Who are the sanctioned people?

It is worth mentioning that Jamil al-Sayed is the former General Director of General Security, and was considered to be the first man of Damascus in Lebanon during the time of the Syrian tutelage. “During the 2019 demonstrations, when protesters gathered in front of his house to demand his resignation, describing him as corrupt, Al-Sayed called on the authorities to shoot and kill protesters,” the US Treasury said in a statement.

Al Arab has “served as an intermediary as of 2014 to broker a meeting between top Lebanese officials in advance of the Lebanese presidential election, in exchange for two government contracts valued at approximately $200 million.” Thursday’s sanctions mark the first time a close associate of Hariri, a pro-western figure, is sanctioned by the US, which previously focused on Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies.

Khoury had won a contract worth $142 million to operate a coastal landfill and has been “accused of dumping toxic waste and refuse into the Mediterranean Sea… all while failing to remedy the garbage crisis,” according to the statement.

  • Sawt Beirut International