Lebanon adopts law to lift banking secrecy for officials

Beirut (AFP) –


Lebanon's parliament Thursday adopted a law to lift banking secrecy for public officials including over corruption or funding "terrorism", a lawmaker said, after months of protests in the crisis-hit country.

But the final text did not allow judges to independently order a disclosure, in a last-minute change that an activist criticised as making the law ineffective.

The law concerns "everyone who deals with public affairs, elected or nominated, lawmaker, mayor, judge, officer or adviser," parliament budget committee chairman Ibrahim Kanaan said.

The bill covers cases of "corruption, as well as funding terrorism, money laundering, and funding electoral campaigns," he told AFP.

Only the central bank's Special Investigation Commission as well as a National Anti-Corruption Commission still to be formed can implement the law, he said.

Mass protests against perceived government mismanagement and corruption erupted in October last year, as Lebanon hurtled into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Banks have imposed crippling banking controls on ordinary depositors, including a ban on transfers abroad and a progressive cap on dollar withdrawals.

But still reports have emerged of mass capital flight, angering campaigners.

Lawyer and activist Nizar Sayegh lambasted the final version of the bill.

"We've ended up with a law that isn't efficient," he told AFP.

The central bank's commission "has always had this ability to be able to lift secrecy as soon as there is the slightest doubt of money laundering," he said.

But "they haven't done it, for example recently when billions were transferred abroad", he told AFP.

Thursday's session, held in a conference hall to follow coronavirus social distancing measures, was to discuss 38 measures in total.

These also include a controversial general amnesty bill, and another on capital controls.

After defaulting on its ballooning debt for the first time in March, Lebanon last month approved a rescue plan and this month entered talks with the International Monetary Fund in a bid to secure billions in international aid.

"The discussions are constructive and cover many areas including capital controls, financial sector restructuring, and structural reforms," an IMF spokesperson said on Wednesday.