Lebanon has become a haven for Lebanese fugitives wanted by international law. These fugitives are often dual nationals and take advantage of a Lebanese law that bars their extradition to the countries where they are wanted.
Among the most prominent fugitives are former Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who is wanted in Europe, and former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, who is wanted in Japan.
They also include Hezbollah members wanted by the United States and who have been sanctioned by Washington, as well as party members wanted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that was looking into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The STL used to send monthly requests to Lebanon demanding the arrest of the fugitives while authorities have constantly replied that they could not find them.
As for Salameh and Ghosn, judicial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Lebanon refuses to turn them over because they have the Lebanese nationality.
In such cases, when proven that the crimes they are wanted for are “serious”, then they would be put on trial in Lebanon because the local judiciary alone has the jurisdiction to try any citizen, even if they have committed a crime abroad, explained the source.
According to Lebanese law, a Lebanese dual national cannot be extradited even if they are wanted by the country of their second nationality, it added.
The law has been criticized, with claims that it actually protects fugitives from international prosecution.
Former general prosecutor Hatem Madi refused to describe Lebanon as a haven for international fugitives.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Lebanon is a member of Interpol, and it is obligated to turn over wanted foreign suspects when it receives a notice.”
Only Lebanese nationals and dual nationals are exempt from the Interpol law, he went on to say.
The state doesn’t turn over its citizens, but it puts them on trial before Lebanese courts, Madi said.
Furthermore, he explained that Lebanese law bars international fugitives from entering Lebanon, but some have ended up secretly entering the country. In such cases, the security agencies would be tasked with finding and arresting them.
The majority of international fugitives have been deported to the countries where they are wanted. Cases are weighed by the government, which has the authority to demand that the fugitives be arrested. The request is then referred to the judiciary for review before being passed on again to the government, which weighs the “political and sovereign” implications of the arrest.
Only then will it decide whether to go ahead with an arrest or not.
Contrary to Lebanese nationals, Lebanon has never wavered in turning over foreign fugitives.
The latest such case was the deportation of an Italian, who was wanted by Interpol for his involvement in drug smuggling between Europe and Africa.
At the time, public prosecutor Ghassan Ouweidat had issued a warrant for his arrest, which was approved by caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury.
Another case dates back two decades when Germany requested the arrest of Palestinians in Lebanon who were wanted for a café bombing in Germany that left five people dead.
Initially, Lebanon had refused to deport them because they did not hold the nationality of any country, recalled Madi.
They were tried and acquitted by a Lebanese court, but it was revealed that the government later ended up deporting them to Germany, he added.