The allegations offered by the United States in justifying the sanctions it imposed on Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil have raised questions that Washington was changing its sanctions policy.
The US had previously cited relations and cooperation with Hezbollah as the basis for slapping sanctions. Now, however, they seem to be focused on corruption.
A State Department official told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country will use all of its authority to sanction Lebanese leaders “who place their interests above those of the Lebanese people.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, meanwhile, demanded that American authorities provide evidence of the alleged corruption charges against his son-in-law and former minister, Bassil.
Asharq Al-Awsat learned that American authorities had warned Bassil in advance that he will soon be sanctioned.
The State Department official declined to comment on this.
He strongly denied that the sanctions are related to the stalled government formation process in Lebanon or the US presidential election.
This is about accountability, he stressed. “We are not targeting a certain group, party or sect, but we are focusing on corruption.”
Several Lebanese officials act as if they have the “luxury of time”, but this is not true, he went on to say. Now is the time to act and the Lebanese leaders must respond to the demands of the people and implement necessary reform immediately.
On whether more sanctions will be imposed on figures who are not affiliated with Hezbollah, the diplomat said that Washington does not disclose in advance the names of targeted officials.
Lebanese leaders must realize that they must work for the national interest to protect all segments of society from corruption and terrorism, he stressed. Washington will use all means at its disposal to hold Lebanese officials, who place their interests above those of the people, to account.
Aoun said Saturday that Lebanon would seek evidence and documents from the United States that led Washington to impose sanctions on Bassil on Friday.
He asked the country's caretaker foreign minister to obtain the evidence and documents that should be submitted to Lebanon's judiciary "to take the necessary legal measures,” said a statement.
On Friday, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on Bassil, singling him out for what it said was his role in corruption.
The FPM has a political alliance with Hezbollah and Bassil has defended the group as vital to the defense of Lebanon.
The Treasury Department said Bassil was at the "forefront of corruption in Lebanon" where successive governments have failed to reduce mounting sovereign debt or address failing infrastructure and the loss-making power sector that cost state coffers billions of dollars while power cuts persisted.
On Saturday, Bassil thanked his supporters for showing solidarity with him in wake of the sanctions. “We are used to oppression. We will be victorious and emerge from this stronger,” he vowed.
FPM supporters had held rallies in cars in a show solidarity with the lawmaker, denouncing the sanctions and saying that they were imposed because Bassil refused to “succumb” to issues that “violate his principles, convictions and national choices.”
Hezbollah had also condemned the sanctions, saying they were “politically motivated and blatant interference in Lebanese internal affairs.”