The U.S. sanctioned two former Lebanese government ministers for providing material support to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group, and engaging in corruption, the first such move against high-level individuals in the country.
Yusuf Finyanus and Ali Hassan Khalil directed political and economic favors to Hezbollah, including ensuring companies it owned won government contracts worth millions of dollars and moving money from government ministries to Hezbollah-associated institutions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Finyanus and Khalil are allied with Hezbollah and their respective political parties, along with others, represent the majority in parliament. Khalil has held several ministerial posts throughout the years including the Finance Ministry and he’s also the top aide to the house speaker, Hezbollah’s main Shiite ally in the country. He is also a member of parliament.
Finyanus was a former public works minister and the head of his political party, Sleiman Franjieh, is a close friend of embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Lebanon is facing its worst financial crisis in decades following years of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Almost a year ago, thousands took to the streets and demanded the fall of a political class they blame for deteriorating living conditions.
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Outgoing Premier Hassan Diab, who was named by Hezbollah and its allies including the president, resigned last month, days after a massive blast leveled the capital’s port and killed more than 180 people. Diab’s cabinet failed to enact reforms to unlock billions of dollars in aid and advance talks with theInternational Monetary Fund for a $10 billion bailout.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Beirut last week, didn’t rule out sanctions against political leaders if reforms aren’t enacted and gave them two weeks to form a new government of independent experts. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, whose political party is Hezbollah’s main Christian ally, assigned a diplomat to form a new cabinet.
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Message to All
The sanctions against the Lebanese individuals was a “message to all” that it was time for a different kind of politics in Lebanon, U.S. Assistant Secretary David Schenker said on a conference call.
“We will use all available authority to hold Lebanon’s leaders accountable for failing to live up to their obligations to the Lebanese people,” Schenker, who was in Beirut last week, said.
The U.S. will maintain pressure on Hezbollah and other “corrupt actors” in the coming weeks and months, the U.S. official added.
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