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Prosecutor presses charges against Lebanon ex-PM: state media

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Beirut (AFP)

A state prosecutor has pressed charges against former Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati over alleged corruption, state media said Wednesday, amid unprecedented anti-graft protests.

The former prime minister, who was last in power in 2014, denied the allegations, saying they carried a "message" and that he was "surprised" by the timing.

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 Mikati, also emphatically denied the allegations in a statement carried by the NNA, denying "any activity related to illicit enrichment".

Mikati added that he would be willing to lift banking secrecy on his accounts, a measure Aoun has suggested for high-ranking officials in response to demonstrators' demands.

Lebanon has strict privacy rules for bank accounts, which critics say makes the country susceptible to money laundering.

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

A telecoms mogul, Mikati has multiple business interests in West Africa and across the globe, in partnership with his brother Taha.

The former premier's estimated wealth is $2.5 billion, making him among the world's 1,000 richest people, according to Forbes.

In 2018, Lebanese media reported that Mikati and his family members were accused of wrongly receiving millions of dollars in subsidised housing loans.

The loans were supposed to help low and middle-income Lebanese buy homes.

The government-backed scheme has subsequently stopped granting new loans.

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

Tens 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 programme to be revived.

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