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Lebanonwire, January 28, 2004

The Daily Star

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Financial scandals across Lebanon move toward resolution
From suspicions of smuggled Iraqi dinars to the continuation of intrigue at Al-Madina, investigations abound

Karine Raad
Daily Star staff

State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum was informed on  Tuesday that Iraqi authorities will send   him a memo demanding the return of money that has been confiscated by Lebanese authorities, according to sources.
The sources told The Daily Star, that Addoum received a call from the Iraqi Charge d’Affaires in Lebanon, Tahseen Elwan Eena, telling him that a memo will be sent through diplomatic channels.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that it could not be held responsible for the decision of Lebanese businessmen to fly to Beirut with billions of Iraqi dinars, which they had cashed for a procurement contract.
“Our responsibility stopped when the money was paid,” interim Interior Minister Nuri Badran said.
He stressed that the Lebanese businessmen agreed to be paid in Iraqi dinars and cashed the money from the Rafidain Bank in Baghdad. “I don’t know why they chose a currency exchange company abroad (to convert the dinars),” he added.
Badran said that the 9.5-billion dinar contract was to supply the ministry with necessary equipment, such as protection and tools for police officers to defuse bombs and strips to protect windows from being shattered by explosions.
The amount was equivalent to $10 million when the contract was signed earlier this month, he said.
He did not explain, however, why the Interior Ministry had not sent proof of the contract, as requested by the Lebanese authorities who seized the dinars from the businessmen on their arrival in Lebanon.
“We have paid the money, we are now awaiting the equipment,” he said.
But the Lebanese authorities said on Jan. 17 they would not return the money until they had proof that the money was from a legal payment for a contract.
Four Lebanese men were detained for several days on suspicion of attempting to smuggle the money as part of a speculation scheme and their passports were confiscated by the Lebanese authorities.
Iraqi central bank officials have conceded that large quantities of the new currency, particularly the easy to carry 25,000 dinar notes, may be being smuggled to neighboring countries.
Smuggling committed by traders hoping to make hefty gains ­ especially when Iraq’s economy improves and its oil exports increase ­ has caused the currency’s value to spike wildly.
On the domestic front, Assistant State Prosecutor Rabia Ammash Qaddoura continued investigations on Tuesday into the forgery of two documents issued by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, which were related to the merger of Al-Madina Bank and the United Credit Bank.
Qaddoura interrogated Al-Madina’s former executive secretary Rana Qoleilat, held in custody for investigations into the case, and held another questioning session for Qoleilat and the current secretaries at the bank, Rana Ayas and Joumana Sharara.
Qoleilat re-iterated her denial of being involved with either documents, stressing that she was abroad when the documents were issued. She requested not to be treated as a “scapegoat” for the bank and relative cases, adding that she was a secretary with limited authority and that every decision was implemented following a direct order from the bank’s chairman of the board of directors, Adnan Abu Ayyash, and his brother, Ibrahim Abu Ayyash, the bank’s director.
Mount Lebanon Chief Investigating Magistrate Joseph Qazzi ruled out two requests for the release of Qoleilat and Youssef Hashi, held in custody for suspicion  of breaching the Money and Credit Law, falsifying SWIFT Operations, providing illusory budgets, and disposing of the depositors’ money as they pleased.
The magistrate said the judiciary was not influenced by rumors or threats, stressing that “patience in some cases aimed to preserve the citizens’ rights,” adding the judiciary settled thousands of cases “discreetly.”
Khoury and the chairman of the prosecution committee magistrate, Tareq Ziade, will head to the judicial palace in the Metn town of Jdeideh on Thursday, as part of a tour of judicial palaces across the country. Khoury will also meet with the board of directors of the Beirut Bar Association, on Wednesday, Feb. 4, to discuss joint judicial cases.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Beirut’s one-court magistrate, Hani Hbal, issued 62 verdicts with respect to violations of the offer and promotion of meat sold recently, without the seal of Beirut’s slaughterhouse. The verdicts also charged violators with selling spoiled meat and neglecting international health standards and hygiene laws in a series of Beirut restaurants.
The verdicts sentenced violators from 10 days to one month of imprisonment and the payment of a fine amounting to LL600,000. ­ With AFP

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