Middle East Eye: Over the past two decades, Lebanon has been under close scrutiny from the US Treasury for potential money laundering or financing of US-designated terrorist organisations.
This has led to two banks shutting their doors, bans on the use of Paypal and other payment operators, headaches for ordinary Lebanese to make transfers, and lots of pressure on banks to comply with international standards.
The reason for such scrutiny is straightforward.
“Lebanon is always under the spotlight because Hezbollah is in Lebanon,” said Wissam Fattouh, the secretary-general of the Union of Arab Banks to the UK publication Money Laundering Bulletin.
This month, the United States, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, sanctioned more Hezbollah members and allegedly connected businesses.
But in a first for the US Treasury, which has focused more on curbing Hezbollah’s financial operations over the years than going after corrupt Lebanese politicians, it sanctioned Gebran Bassil, former foreign minister and head of Free Patriotic Movement, which holds the biggest bloc in parliament, for corruption earlier in November.
The move has been widely considered as linked to Bassil’s ties to Hezbollah.
Such moves come amid the heightened use of sanctions by the US government against governments and political parties it opposes, from plans to intensify sanctions on Iran until President Donald Trump leaves office in January 2021, to sanctions against Syria, Venezuela, North Korea and China.
The US currently has two pieces of legislation targeting Hezbollah – the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) of 2015, and the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendment Act (HIFPA 2) of 2018.
A new bill was proposed in September, the Hezbollah Money Laundering Prevention Act of 2020, “to stop the Iranian backed terrorist organization Hezbollah’s money laundering activities across the world, especially in Lebanon and Latin America.”
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