Naharnet

Judge Presses Charges against Miqati, Relatives for 'Illicit Enrichment'

Mount Lebanon State Prosecutor, Judge Ghada Aoun, on Wednesday pressed charges against former prime minister Najib Miqati, 63, his son Maher and his brother Taha, as well as against Bank Audi, for illicit enrichment, the National News Agency reported.

NNA said Mikati and others are charged for obtaining housing loans subsidized by the Central Bank of Lebanon.

The Judge referred them before the first investigative judge, NNA added.

Miqati later held a press conference in which he voiced surprise over the "timing" of Judge Ghada Aoun's decision to prosecute him, describing it as a political "message" from the presidency.

Miqati added that he is "at the disposal of the judiciary," saying that he will not "hide behind" his parliamentary immunity and that he is ready to lift bank secrecy off his accounts.

He said the charges were punishment for not supporting the election of President Michel Aoun in 2016 and for calling on the government to resign in the face of mass protests that broke out last week.

Bank Audi, which was accused of cooperating with Miqati, also emphatically denied the allegations in a statement, denying "any activity related to illicit enrichment."

According to reports, Miqati, the founder of holding company Miqati Group, was accused of eating up a big chunk of subsidized financing to purchase homes.

The former prime minister, who resigned from the post in 2013, has previously denied the allegations.

He announced he will give a press conference on Wednesday to address the charges.

Corruption is rife in Lebanon, but it is rare for politicians to face legal proceedings.

The telecoms mogul, in tandem with his brother Taha, has multiple business interests in West Africa and across the globe.

Miqati's estimated wealth is $2.5 billion, making him among the 1,000 richest people in the world.

More than 25 percent of Lebanon's population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

In 2018, Lebanese media reported that Miqati and the others were accused of wrongly receiving millions of dollars in subsidized housing loans.

The loans were supposed to help low- and middle-income Lebanese buy homes. The government-backed scheme has subsequently stopped granting any new loans.

At the time, the Miqatis dismissed the accusations.

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have poured onto the streets daily since last Thursday in an unprecedented outburst of anger against a political class widely seen as corrupt.

Some demonstrators have raised signs calling for the housing loan program to be revived.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse


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