US sanctions two former Lebanese ministers over Hezbollah links

The Treasury Department blacklisted Yusuf Finyanus and Ali Hassan Khalil over alleged corruption and dealings with Hezbollah.

al-monitor An exterior view of the building of US Department of the Treasury is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 9, 2020

The United States imposed sanctions on two former Lebanese ministers Tuesday accused of providing political and economic favors to Iran-backed Hezbollah and sharing in the corruption that has fueled the country’s economic meltdown.

Yusuf Finyanus, Lebanon’s former transportation and public works minister, and Ali Hassan Khalil, the former finance minister, “provided material support to Hezbollah and engaged in corruption,” according to the US Treasury Department.  

“Corruption has run rampant in Lebanon, and Hezbollah has exploited the political system to spread its malign influence,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States stands with the people of Lebanon in their calls for reform and will continue to use its authorities to target those who oppress and exploit them."

Finyanus is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hezbollah in exchange for political favors, as well as allowing the group to siphon public funds to ensure that Hezbollah companies won bids for Lebanese government contracts.

The Treasury also said Finyanus helped the Shiite group gain access to sensitive legal documents related to the international tribunal that recently convicted a Hezbollah member in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. 

As minister of finance, Khalil “worked to move money in a manner that would avoid U.S. sanctions enforcement from government ministries to Hezbollah-associated institutions,” Treasury said. Khalil, a top aide to parliament speaker Nabih Berri, is also accused of allowing a Hezbollah affiliate to avoid paying taxes on electronics imports.

The Amal movement responded to Khalil’s designation with a statement that “this decision will not change our convictions and our national and patriotic principles at all."

Hezbollah, both a powerful political faction and militant group in Lebanon, is considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. The Donald Trump administration has blacklisted more than 90 Hezbollah-affiliated individuals and entities since 2017.

The sanctions come just over a month after the explosion that tore through Beirut, leaving 190 dead and thousands more wounded. Officials have blamed the Aug. 4 blast on a stockpile of ammonium nitrate that, despite repeated warnings, was stored improperly at Beirut's port for six years. 

The Treasury Department didn't assign any blame to Finyanus and Khalil, but said the explosion had amplified calls for a more transparent and accountable government in Lebanon. 

The small Mediterranean country is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. But foreign donors, including the United States, say Lebanon must enact long-promised reforms before receiving further financial assistance. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, who visited Beirut last week, told reporters on Tuesday to "absolutely expect" more sanctions.

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