The US has imposed sanctions on prominent Hezbollah-allied Lebanese politician Gebran Bassil “for his role in corruption.” The former foreign minister branded the move an “injustice.”
Bassil is accused by the US of “appointing friends to positions” in 2017 and funneling government cash through shell companies to “individuals close to him” in 2014 when he was minister of energy.
“The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said when announcing the sanctions.
The sanctions restrict any assets fully or partly controlled by Bassil in the US, and they are the latest measures the US has slapped on Lebanese officials for alleged corruption and over their support for Iran-backed Hezbollah, which it classifies as a terrorist organization.
Bassil, son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and head of the Shia-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), said the sanctions did not “frighten” him and that he had not been “tempted by promises.”
“I became accustomed to injustice,” he added in a tweet responding to the sanctions.
Bassil’s support for Hezbollah was also “every bit of the motivation” for the decision to sanction him, one senior US official told Reuters.
The politician has previously defended the militant group, which formed a political alliance with his FPM in 2006, citing Hezbollah’s MPs in parliament as evidence that it is not a terrorist group.
Hezbollah has slammed the US over the sanctions, calling them “a blatant interference in Lebanon’s affairs.” By targeting Bassil, Washington was trying to force a large Lebanese political bloc to submit to its conditions and dictations, the group said in a statement.
The sanctions come as Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Hezbollah, is still trying to form a government after his predecessor resigned amid public outrage over the devastating explosion in Beirut Port in early August.
The country has been struggling with an economic crisis and collapsing currency for several months – a situation further complicated by both the blast and the Covid-19 pandemic.
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