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Mohammed Baasiri: Senior Banker and Businessman Becomes Prominent Premiership Candidate

Mohammed Baasiri: Senior Banker and Businessman Becomes Prominent Premiership Candidate

Saturday, 11 July, 2020 - 10:00
Caricature of Mohammed Baasiri
Beirut - Ali Zeineddine

The name of Mohammed Baasiri is widely discussed by Lebanon’s financial and political circles. With a remarkable and rapid dynamism, he joined the club of strong candidates for the premiership. This was preceded by an explicit reference made by US Ambassador to Beirut Dorothy Shea, to a senior security official, regarding the importance of his reappointment as Deputy Governor of Banque du Liban. “No Baasiri, No Money”, the official quoted the ambassador as saying.

The information, broadly circulated and reported by many sources, was not denied by the concerned party. Baasiri, however, remains wary and says: “I heard the statement from media sources and I am not concerned with its denial or confirmation.”

Lebanese banker and businessman Mohamed Baasiri does not hide his keenness to have his position as deputy governor renewed. This is a position he held for two consecutive terms (2009 - 2019), and he personally supervised a number of directorates at the Bank, in addition to his previous membership in the Higher Banking Commission and his former presidency of the National Coordination Committee to combat money laundering.

Before his appointment as Deputy Governor, he chaired the Banking Supervision Committee from June 1990 to mid-2000 and then was appointed for a year as a resident advisor to the International Monetary Fund at the Central Bank of Oman.

In 2001, he was chosen to be the first Secretary-General of the Special Investigation Authority - the newly established Financial Information Unit in Lebanon.

According to Baasiri, Lebanon’s contacts with the IMF must be dissociated from internal political bickering.

“This is a very significant indication at a time when we, as an official and financial team, are engaged in difficult and complicated negotiations with the IMF experts,” he said.

Baasiri expresses his surprise at “all the fanfare about his relations with the Americans.”

“It is an institutional relationship that began nearly two decades ago, when I was the secretary of the BDL’s Special Investigation Commission, which is responsible for combating money laundering and terrorism financing,” he remarked.

He continued: “As a representative of my country, I had a prominent role in establishing the MENAFATF (the Financial Action Task Force for the MENA region). Through this institution, direct relationships have emerged with the US Treasury, the Federal Reserve and major US banks.”

“Then I maintained these relations through my position as Deputy Governor, as I was officially charged with following up on financial laws and sanctions issued by the US and international financial authorities,” he added.

Indeed, the Special Investigation Commission under Baasiri has accomplished many achievements, such as removing Lebanon from the FATF list of non-cooperative countries and joining the Egmont Group.

Asked about the nature of the desired reforms that comply with the policies adopted by the IMF, Baasiri said: “As the Lebanese government decided to resort to the IMF for financial aid, which is the only option available in the prevailing circumstances, this decision should be based on a firm conviction that this international financial institution is automatically subject to the positions of its major stakeholders, particularly the United States, Japan and the European Union countries.”

“There is no time for further delays… The government should immediately start approving the administrative and practical executive steps to reform the electricity sector, which has drained about USD 40 billion in two consecutive decades, and continues to consume about USD 2 billion annually,” the senior banker underlined.

Baasiri also emphasized the need for reforming the public sector.

“Until now, we have not heard of any promising action in the electricity and public sectors, which inflict the heaviest burden on the state treasury,” he noted.

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