Director General of the Lebanese Customs Badri Daher told Asharq Al-Awsat that an anti-smuggling plan launched several weeks ago has reached "good results."
He announced that smuggling operations had stopped by 70 percent at illegal crossings on the eastern and northern borders of Lebanon and 90 percent at legitimate border posts.
Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil had earlier talked about the presence of 136 illegal crossings known by the names of persons or the type of certain goods, pointing out that the phenomenon of smuggling “threatens the country’s economy, contributes to the fiscal deficit and reduces imports.”
He had also complained of the inability to take “real steps” to combat smuggling.
In contrast, Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab announced that 90 percent of the smuggling took place through legal crossings and only 10 percent through illegal ones.
Daher, for his part, stressed that estimates indicating that the volume of smuggled goods was around $600 million were exaggerated, noting that those did not exceed $200 million. He pointed out that Lebanon imported products and goods worth $20 billion annually, 51 percent of which are not subject to customs duties, according to the law.
He also said that the customs directorate suffered from a significant shortage of staff.
In this regard, he emphasized that the customs needed 10,000 employees to carry out the tasks assigned to it, but only 1,000 elements were currently working in the directorate, distributed as follows: 500 staff in the administrative and logistical departments, 300 in legal posts and only 100 monitoring illegal crossings.
As for the equipment used in the fight against smuggling, Daher said: “We do not have more than one hundred cars, which are on average 15 years-old, while we face smuggling mafias that use new four-wheel drive vehicles. We also don’t have modern mechanisms and techniques for surveillance.”
The Lebanese Army plays a key role in countering smuggling operations. This was also confirmed by Daher and military sources, who underlined constant cooperation along the borders.