29 September 2003

Pressure still on Al-Madina results of investigation

Pressure still on Al-Madina results of investigation coming soon
State prosecutor’s case ‘separate to Central Bank money laundering probe’

The Central Bank’s Special Committee on Money Laundering is still looking into charges against some individuals involved in the troubled Al-Madina Bank, the Central Bank’s governor, Riad Salameh, said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at the Central Bank’s headquarters in Beirut, Salameh said that the results of the investigation would be soon disclosed. [Pressure still on Al-Madina results of investigation coming soon (Daily Star)]

The committee was established three years ago to investigate money laundering activities in Lebanon. Salameh added, however, that the investigations into Al-Madina Bank did not concern the Central Bank.

Al-Madina Bank is suspected of money laundering activities, embezzling funds, counterfeiting documents and breaching the money and credit law. Sources said the bank issued over $350 million in bad checks to customers.

The Central Bank promptly stepped in and appointed a temporary general manager to ensure that all deposits were returned to their owners.

Hotels and prime properties in landmark locations belonging to the chairman of the bank and some of his clients were re-possessed by the Central Bank in order to liquidate them.

The governor said that the bulk of the money has been retrieved and depositors were getting 10 percent of their money each month. This is a process that is expected to last for another few months.

Andre Bandali, the temporary general manager of Al-Madina, has filed charges against many suspects. Ahmed Ali Ahmed had filed a law suit against the owner of the bank for writing a $21 million check without provision.

Salameh asked the state prosecutor last month to send back the file of Al-Madina after most deposits were retrieved from the owner of the bank Adnan Abu Ayyash.

The sudden and unexpected closure of the case caused a public outcry among many politicians and bankers, who wondered why the owner of the bank and other individuals were not detained.

Ibrahim Abu Ayyash, the vice chairman of Al-Madina, is currently in police custody at the request of State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum.

However, the chairman of the bank, Adnan Abu Ayyash, is still in Saudi Arabia despite many appeals to repatriate him to Lebanon.

On Thursday, Assistant State Prosecutor Rabiaa Qaddoura questioned the manager of the bank’s Hamra branch, Iman Daher, in addition to the heads of the bank’s departments, including Joumana Abdel-Baqi, Youssef Hashi and Kazem Bahlawan.

They were all interrogated in the case of violating the Monetary and Credit Law, forfeiting notices and granting loans without guarantees or with illusionary guarantees.

According to a source, they all denied knowledge of any of the aforementioned crimes, so the judge decided to release them pending investigation.

At the news conference, Salameh expressed doubt that the owner of Al-Madina would keep his bank even if the case against him is closed.

Among the few scenarios that the Central Bank will be considering in the future is either liquidating Al-Madina or merging it with another bank.

Salameh stressed that the case had no impact on the Lebanese banking sector, which has an annual growth of 15 percent each year. He added that in the month of August alone, the balance of payment recorded a surplus of $271 million. “Our main concern is to retrieve the money of depositors irrespective of the results of the courts,” Salameh said. But the governor refused to speculate on the outcome of the investigation.

Salameh said the Central Bank will release the names of all the properties that were repossessed from the Abu Ayyash family and other clients.

Taha Qoleilat, a prominent businessman, is one of the key suspects in the Al-Madina case. Most of Qoleilat’s properties, including the Sheraton Coral Beach hotel, were repossessed by the Central Bank.-(DStar)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.