The United States Treasury Department has announced it has imposed sanctions on the former Lebanese Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, for his links to corruption.
Bassil is the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party allied to Lebanon’s influential Shia group Hezbollah. Hezbollah in turn enjoys financial, strategic and political support from Iran.
In its statement on November 6, the US Treasury said any United States-based property, interests, and entities of which Bassil owned 50 percent a share of or more, whether individually or with other people subject to sanctions, would be seized, and reported to the Office of Foreign Assets. This will also apply to properties and assets based in territories under US jurisdiction.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "Systematic corruption in the Lebanese political system that Bassil represented helped undermine the foundations of an effective government able to serve the Lebanese people.”
For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded on Twitter that Lebanese leaders listen to their people, make reforms, and put an end to corruption.
The Treasury accused the parliamentarian, who served as foreign minister from 2014 until 2020, of corruption, stating that in 2014 he was involved in the transfer of government funds to his allies. It claimed Bassil had been linked to corruption both directly and indirectly, which, it says, included the embezzlement of state funds, accepting bribes, confiscation of funds for personal gain, and corrupt settlement of government contracts.
US authorities also said sanctions were brought against him because he had appointed personal friends to several influential positions as recently as 2017.
Bassil responded to the sanctions imposed on him via Twitter: ”I have been wronged," he said, and hinted that he had rejected contracts, without going into details.
Al-Manar TV reported Lebanese Hezbollah as stating: ”The decision taken by the US Treasury against the president of the Free Patriotic Movement is a flagrant and blatant interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.”
Gebran Bassil is the son-in-law of current president Michel Aoun. He was Minister of Communications, Minister of Energy and Water, and then went on to be Minister of Foreign Affairs. The new sanctions coincide with the faltering formation of a new Lebanese government, which Pompeo said must work to bring about “significant reforms” that will have a positive impact on its people and the security of the country.
It followed the massive explosion in the capital, Beirut, on August 4, which killed at least 190 people, traumatized the economy and prompted the collapse of the previous government.
In September, Washington placed Youssef Fenianos and Ali Hassan Khalil, both former ministers, on the sanctions list because of their involvement with Hezbollah and various corrupt operations, according to the US Treasury.