19 September 2007

Koleitat Accused Husband of Embezzlement

Lebanon's Al-Madina Bank scandal heroin Rana Koleilat accused the bank's fugitive chairman Adnan Abu Ayash, whom she claimed to be his wife, of embezzlement.
"I feel I was a victim in this case," Koleilat said in an interview published by the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday.

"If I had stolen money … I wouldn't have paid depositors from the properties and real estates registered under my name," Koleilat said from her prison in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Koleilat said Abu Ayash "stole the money from the bank and caused its collapse," denying allegations that she was transferring money from the bank to accounts in the names of "Lebanese or Syrians."

She accused Abu Ayash's family and relatives of "supervising these transfers."

Koleilat's case highlights the corruption that has ravaged Lebanon for decades. Paying off Syrian intelligence officers and providing gifts to influential politicians and business people was common during the period when Syria influenced everything in Lebanon, from picking a president to harassing a political foe, and even cutting a business deal or finding a stolen car.

Koleilat was freed on bail less than two months before the February 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, allegedly under pressure from Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Rustum Ghazale. She was whisked out of the country before the Syrian army withdrew in April and reportedly spent time in Egypt before going to Brazil.

Abu Ayash later filed a lawsuit accusing Koleilat, Ghazale and three of the Syrian's brothers of laundering and theft of more than $70 million in depositors' money. Lawyer Jean Azzi claimed Koleilat would withdraw money from the bank and transfer it to accounts she opened in the names of Ghazale and his brothers.

Now once again in prison -- this time in Brazil -- Koleilat may be connected to something more sinister: Hariri's assassination.

U.N. investigators have told police they want to question her in the assassination. Brazilian police said investigators want to know whether money allegedly diverted from Al-Madina Bank, where Koleilat once worked, was used to finance the slaying.

"It's vital that Miss Koleilat submit herself before the U.N. commission for questioning," Joseph Sayah, Lebanon's consul general in Sao Paulo had told investigators.

Koleilat spent time in prison in Lebanon in 2004, but then jumped bail on fraud charges in a banking scandal and fled the country, allegedly with Syrian help. She was arrested by Brazilian police in March 2006.

Brazilian authorities said they arrested the 39-year-old Koleilat after an anonymous tip.

Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Brazil, where Koleilat also faces charges of trying to bribe police officers to release her. Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza reportedly was trying to find a legal basis to demand that she be handed over, and Lebanese judicial officials told the AP authorities will seek to focus on the bank fraud charges.

Koleilat's Brazilian lawyer said she told him she knows nothing about Hariri's assassination or the bank's missing money, and that she offered no bribe to police.

During 12 years at the private Al-Madina bank, Koleilat rose from a clerk to an executive, and she quickly became the center of the scandal after it broke in July 2003. After detecting a cash deficit of more than $300 million, along with other irregularities, the Central Bank stepped in and took control of Al-Madina.

A lawsuit accused Koleilat of issuing a bad check for $3 million and of forging bank documents with the aim of embezzling. Several depositors also have filed suit against her and the bank's owners.

Koleilat was interrogated and jailed for several months in 2004.

She became a celebrity at the height of the banking scandal, with the media scrutinizing her lifestyle, purchases and gifts. Koleilat reportedly handed out expensive cars, apartments and houses to powerful people in Lebanon and in Syria.-(naharnet)

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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.