Beirut-Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh uncovered Thursday the closure of accounts linked to the so-called Hezbollah in line with the U.S. law targeting the party’s finances, and asserted that the Central Bank is working on implementing this law.
In an interview with CNBC business news channel, Salameh said: “Our priority is to keep Lebanon on the international financial map, and therefore we have decided to implement the U.S. law in Lebanon. We have placed the needed structure to satisfy this law’s objectives and at the same time protect the rights of Shi’ites when dealing with banks.”
Several Lebanese banks started implementing the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, which the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of Treasury introduced in December 2015, as a condition to doing business with Lebanon.
A source at the Central Bank said “a new list linked to the so-called Hezbollah has been already issued, and therefore new accounts will be closed in the upcoming days, including accounts of companies and institutions controlled by Hezbollah. On top of this list is the name of Rassoul Al Aazam Hospital.”
The source added “these accounts involve more than 3,000 persons including employees, partners and others working for the profit of the party.”
The source said that the Central Bank decision is very strict in not allowing those affected by the U.S. law to reopen an account in any of the Lebanese banks or in any currency.
The Rassoul Al Aazam Hospital is considered one of the leading hospitals owned by the so-called Hezbollah party. It treats the party’s leaders and those injured in the war in Syria.
A source working at a Lebanese bank told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the operation of closing accounts linked to the so-called Hezbollah, its institutions or people close to the party, is not subject to a primary investigation by the Central Bank Special Investigation Commission (SIC) and that any account which will be closed before a decision by the SIC would be a corrupt suspect.”
Another source working at a leading Lebanese bank told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that “after the U.S. issued the law against the so-called Hezbollah party, we have a new way to deal with our clients. The bank does not possess anymore the unconditional decision to open or close a client’s account.”
The source added: “The Central Bank has forced each bank working in Lebanon to establish what is called a “Division of Investigation and Discipline” at the banks’ general administration. This particular division asks its branches to provide the bank’s headquarters with information concerning a certain client.
“If the bank is suspicious about this client, then it refers the issue to the Central Bank Special Investigation Commission. This commission should take a decision concerning this particular client in a period of one month. If no decision is issued, the bank has the choice either to keep the client’s account open or to close it.”
The source did not hide the fact that Lebanese banks are currently under enormous pressure and their work is restricted by the slightest details when taking the decision of opening a new account, and therefore banks are very embarrassed when dealing with their clients.
On Wednesday, Al Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, had published a report saying that the U.S. law against the party does not only target the closure of accounts, which is expected to develop gradually.
The newspaper asserted that the negative outcome is the closure of the accounts of organizations, schools and hospitals linked to the main institutions that were affected by this law, such as the hospitals linked to the Martyrs’ Foundation, Rassoul Al Aazam Hospital, Baalbek Hospital, West Bekaa Hospital and other health, social and educational institutions.
The newspaper also expected the closure of the accounts of Bahman Hospital which is linked to the Mabarrat Foundation, one of the institutions of late Shi’ite Cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
Al Akhbar wrote that the decision would also affect employees working for those institutions and hospitals. The newspaper said that not all staff are linked to Hezbollah or are from the Shi’ite sect.
Late on Thursday, Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc reacted to the U.S. law against its funding. The bloc said the U.S. administration spares no effort to undermine the resistance and its audience, stressing that targeting the resistance via the banking sector was doomed to fail.