BEIRUT — Assisted by civilian supporters, Judge Ghada Aoun forcibly entered the Mecattaf Holding Group’s offices in Awkar on Wednesday to conduct a raid, disregarding the Supreme Judicial Council’s call for her to abide by a senior public prosecutor’s order dismissing her from financial crime cases.
Hours later she left the office with files and computers, which she loaded into her private car, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Flanked by dozens of Free Patriotic Movement supporters, Aoun managed to make her way into the company’s premises on Wednesday afternoon after breaking the gate’s lock and accessing the building.
Meanwhile, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the premises, chanting in support of Aoun and calling on her to move forward with her investigation. They were met with a heavy security presence, including riot police and Army Intelligence, with which they engaged in sporadic scuffles over the course of the evening.
The Supreme Judicial Council on Tuesday asked Aoun to obey the dismissal order against her, after it heard testimony from the judge. It also said in a statement that it had referred the matter to the Judicial Inspection Authority, which may take punitive measures against Aoun.
Wednesday’s outburst is the latest in the highly publicized saga pitting Aoun against Mecattaf Holding Group, a major foreign exchange business, which she was investigating along with Société Générale de Banque au Liban for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad. Wednesday’s raid is the judge’s third on the company’s premises since public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, who outranks Aoun, ordered her dismissal from the case last Thursday.
Aoun had also charged Riad Salameh, the longstanding central bank governor, with dereliction of duty and breach of trust in respect to his use of dollars allocated for subsidizing basic goods. Oueidat dismissed the Mount Lebanon prosecutor from this case too.
Aoun’s dismissal came as part of a case load reshuffle that saw Oueidat allocate cases related to drug trafficking and disposal, major financial crimes, and homicides to three prosecutors: Sami Sader, Samer Lichaa and Tanios Saghbini. He handed the financial crimes case load to Lichaa.
Despite the Supreme Judicial Council’s decision being binding — meaning Aoun is obliged to heed its call — she “must still be formally notified in writing before she must step aside”, Edy Maalouf, an FPM parliamentarian, said.
Aoun told OTV on Wednesday that “the Supreme Judicial Council issued a statement, not a decision, and I have not been informed of it yet.”
The FPM, the party founded by the president, is seen as close to Aoun. In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the party condemned the “security forces’ assault against peaceful protesters” outside the Mecattaf Holding Group’s office, calling on the caretaker Interior Minister to take punitive action against “those who gave orders to attack peaceful citizens.”
Speaking on Saturday, caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm blasted the public spat, saying that Oueidat’s dismissal of Aoun and the fallout of it “go beyond a dispute between two judicial authorities” and are evidence of the judiciary's politicization.
With no end in sight to the dispute, the only available recourse to revoke Oueidat’s decision lies with Najm, Rizk Zgheib, a law professor at Saint Joseph University, told L’Orient Today.
“As his superior, Najm can still choose to nullify Oueidat’s decision,” he said.