Lebanon lifts bank secrecy laws in certain money laundering cases


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Lebanon has been criticized in the past for its various bank secrecy laws, particularly from the United States and other Western global powers. These laws legally bar banks from providing personal and bank account information of individuals to authorities unless there are specific extreme circumstances. On Monday, the Lebanese government announced it would be lifting its banking secrecy laws on 17 different accounts that are under investigation for money laundering.

The Central Bank's Special Investigation Commission reported that it was abandoning its secrecy laws for these accounts because they have been accused of money laundering, embezzlement and funding terrorism, charges that were first investigated in 2013. These 17 bank accounts have come under particularly harsh scrutiny in recent weeks, after the Commission investigated over 301 reported cases of money laundering that were forwarded to them by local and foreign sources. These 17 were deemed necessary to look into further.

In his statement assessing why the bank secrecy laws had to be lifted in these circumstances, the head of the Central bank said that the 17 cases were studied heavily by law enforcement officials before being referred to the country's general prosecutor. If the account information had not been released, it would have inhibited the investigation.

"Furthermore, corruption-related funds were traced and returned to the Tunisian government and work was done through the judicial committee tasked with developing a manual on recovering corruption related funds smuggled to Lebanon," Central bank head Riad Salameh said in a press statement.

The country is still looking into other money laundering and terrorism funding cases, with almost 50 still pending. The United States has approved of Lebanon's decision to lift its bank secrecy laws in these cases, as it has long pressured the Lebanese government to strongly go after individuals who are funding global terrorist activities.