Lebanese Banks Push Back Against US Group's Attacks

As American anti-Iran groups ramp up attacks on Lebanese banks, American officials have emphasized their continued support for Lebanon’s storied banking sector, writes Adnan el-Hajj. Top banking officials are now calling for a "Lebanese lobby" to counter external pressure.

al-monitor Nathan Carleton of the group United Against Nuclear Iran works in their "war room" in the Warwick Hotel in New York. September 2011.  Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images.

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us treasury, us sanctions, us, uani, sanctions, lebanon banks, lebanon, lebanese banking sector, iran sanctions, iran, hezbollah, economic, central bank of lebanon, business

Jul 18, 2012

The US treasury intermittently targets the Lebanese banking sector under the guise of combating terrorism and money laundering for Hezbollah, as well as under the guise of complying with US and international sanctions against Iran and Syria. However, their actions are now seemingly targeting the entire financial situation of the Lebanese state, especially considering the call to sell and get rid of Lebanese securities. Lebanon is deemed a "Hezbollah state" that is offering facilities to both Iran and Syria.

This time, the public finances of the state were targeted by a special US lobby called "United Against Nuclear Iran" (UANI). This is an American Zionist group that consists of officers and former congressmen from the United States and abroad. This group published articles (some in The Wall Street Journal) and sent memoranda to international rating agencies and financial institutions calling for the abandonment of Lebanese securities and treasury bonds. Also, the lobby called on the US Treasury Department to put Lebanon and its fiscal and monetary authorities on the list of countries involved in money laundering for both Iran and Hezbollah.

Moreover, this group recently criticized the Lebanese monetary system and governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, by raising a series of questions about the relationship between the Central Bank of Lebanon and the Central Bank of Iran. Dealing with the Central Bank of Iran is banned by US sanctions.

The lobby says that deposits in the Lebanese banking sector are increasing due to funds transferred by Iran to Hezbollah. This thinking is based off of certain speeches made by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in which he refers to Iranian aid to Hezbollah and the Lebanese state.

The most dangerous thing is that this lobby, which has no official status, opposes the direction of official US authorities. Official US authorities praise the performance of the financial and banking sector in Lebanon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has even recently called Prime Minister Najib Mikati to stress her support for the safety and stability of the Lebanese situation. She conveyed her confidence in Lebanon’s institutions, including the financial and military ones.

This lobby, which is operating in a time of escalating regional tensions over the Lebanese financial system, has called on financial institutions and banks that carry Lebanese bonds and securities to abandon them. They argue that the Lebanese state is laundering money while offering facilities for both Syria and Iran. Despite the fact that this organization lacks any official status, some of the financial institutions responded and sold some Lebanese securities and bonds. However, they did so in limited quantities, which had little impact on the prices of these securities and bonds.

This fact led Lebanese banks and the Central Bank of Lebanon to take action. After holding meetings, the Banking Association decided to address these outside developments. It also called on the government to form a group to respond to these intermittent charges whenever new sanctions against Syria and Iran are issued.

The Lebanese economy is being targeted in order to influence two of the most important forces in Lebanon: the financial and banking sectors. Even the nation’s monetary policy is being targeted, as evidenced by the attack against the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon. He was accused of dealing with the Central Bank of Iran, among other spurious charges.

Joint meetings were held between the Bank Association and the Central Bank of Lebanon to discuss the American response to the Central Bank’s governor, who denied all the accusations. The association delivered a series of questions to the governor about the nature of the financial relations with the banned parties in Lebanon and Iran. Official bodies have reportedly raised the issue with the US Department of State and other official bodies in a bid to prevent Lebanon's foreign financial activity from being affected.

Torbey: Lebanon is not on the official indictment

Head of the Lebanese Bank Association Joseph Torbey told As-Safir that Lebanon is not on any official money laundering lists that are issued by the US or international authorities. On the contrary, state authorities say that Lebanon and the banking sector enjoy high and irreversible credibility. Torbey assured that "circulars are pathological for a sound sector, and foreign parties who know the sector know full well that this campaign is unfair. Its impact will be futile, as evidenced by the absence of any initiative from the US Treasury or Department of State.

Torbey said in response to a question: “The charges made ​​by the private UANI organization are contrary to the attitudes of US officials. In fact, these officials emphasize the safe performance of Lebanon's financial and banking sector. They also stress US support for the credibility of the Lebanese security and financial services as well as the activity of the banking sector. The US Secretary of State confirmed such support in her phone conversation with Prime Minister Najib Mikati.”

Torbey continued: "This proves that these accusations are not made by an official entity. Moreover, a case which involves a maximum of five people should not be used as a basis to deal with the largest Lebanese sector and thus discredit Lebanon's reputation abroad and the reputation of its financial sector.” (This was a reference to the US Treasury's recent announcement that four people were accused of laundering money for Hezbollah from outside Lebanon.)

According to Torbey, a media campaign is currently being carried out through the letters that were sent to the international rating agencies and financial institutions to incite them against Lebanon. Our banking system is well-known by the global banking system. It deals with the US banking system and the financial parties in the US through tools that are based on trust. Moreover, these authorities praise the Lebanese banking sector's control of all the difficult circumstances. They also note the Lebanese banking sector's ability to overcome all the political crises that are plaguing the country.

This kept the financial sector away from any negative consequences or repercussions, especially in light of the current situation; Lebanese institutions have dealt with the outside world with confidence, as confirmed by the US Department of State on several occasions.

Torbey concluded his statement by reducing the importance of the implications of the actions against the Lebanese financial sector abroad, saying that these actions are contrary to the official US position.

Reducing the ongoing external pressure on Lebanon, particularly from the US and from Zionist groups within the US, requires official steps on the part of the Lebanese banking sector. It must form specialized groups that are tasked with addressing this programmed targeting of the financial sector, which is escalating amidst the worsening political crises in Lebanon and the region in general. The banking sector is also being targeted, in light of the deteriorating situation in neighboring countries. There is information indicating that the banking sector is willing to cooperate with the Central Bank of Lebanon to form a Lebanese lobby, which will be tasked with responding to foreign attacks. They will do this whenever the need arises to stop the negative repercussions that affect the largest Lebanese economic sector.

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