Lebanon Removes Banking Secrecy Rules in Bid to Fight Corruption
The Lebanese parliament approved on Thursday a law to remove decades-old banking secrecy rules in order to better fight rampant corruption that has pushed the country to the edge of economic collapse.
The move opens the way for investigations into bank accounts of current and former officials such as Cabinet ministers, legislators and civil servants, state-run National News Agency reported.
Parliament's budget committee chairman MP Ibrahim Kanaan said the law would lift banking secrecy for public officials, including over corruption or "terror" funding.
But the final text did not allow judges to independently order a disclosure, in a last-minute change that an activist said made the law toothless.
The law concerns "everyone who deals with public affairs, elected or nominated, lawmaker, mayor, judge, officer or adviser," Kanaan said.
It covers suspected cases of "corruption, as well as funding terrorism, money laundering, and funding electoral campaigns," he told AFP.
Lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh lambasted the final version of the bill.
The central bank's commission "has always had this ability to be able to lift secrecy as soon as there is the slightest suspicion of money laundering," he said.
But "they haven't done it, for example recently when billions were transferred abroad," he added.
The restoration of stolen public money in the corruption-plagued nation has been a key demand of protesters who have been demonstrating since mid-October against Lebanon's ruling elite, which they blame for widespread corruption and mismanagement.
The approval of the law came two months after the Cabinet approved a draft resolution to abolish the country's banking secrecy laws, which had turned tiny Lebanon into the region's Switzerland, attracting clients from around the Arab world who prized the anonymity its banks offered.
The new law gives powers to the National Commission for Combating Corruption and a Special Investigation Commission at the central bank to investigate bank accounts of officials, the report said.
Lebanon has been facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with unemployment figures soaring and the local currency losing more than half of its value against the dollar.