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Hariri meets pope, Ghada Aoun pursues probe, alleged import obstruction: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, April 23, and this weekend

Hariri meets pope, Ghada Aoun pursues probe, alleged import obstruction: Everything you need to know today

Pope Francis meets with Saad Hariri at the Vatican. (Credit: Vatican Media)

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Saad Hariri met briefly with Pope Francis at the Vatican Thursday morning, discussing the potential role the Vatican can play in supporting Lebanon amid its current crises. At the end of the meeting, the prime-minister designate gave the pope a piece of artwork made by third-generation Palestinian Christians in Colombia, depicting St. George and the dragon, his office said. Hariri tweeted after the meeting that the Pope will visit Lebanon, but only after a government is formed. Hariri also met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio yesterday. The trip is the latest in a series of foreign visits Hariri has made as government formation remains at an impasse in Lebanon amid a standoff between the premier-designate and President Michel Aoun.

Judge Ghada Aoun has secured computer servers and documents needed to move forward with her money laundering and illicit enrichment investigations into the Mecattaf Holding Group. The United Against Corruption alliance, which filed a complaint against the group, confirmed the materials’ seizure to L’Orient Today. Rami Oleik, a lawyer who founded the alliance, said that forensic analysts will now delve into the information to ascertain a clearer picture of Mecattaf’s involvement in a money laundering scheme. Aoun raided the office of Mecattaf, a money exchange group, for a third time on Wednesday night, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council asked her to abide by an order dismissing her from financial crime cases. Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Barkan Saad has summoned Judge Ghada Aoun for a session at the Judicial Palace today to question her on her defiance of the Supreme Judicial Council’s decision, a judicial source told L’Orient Today.

President Michel Aoun criticized security forces’ use of force during clashes that broke out on Wednesday with Judge Ghada Aoun’s supporters while she raided the office of the Mecattaf Holding Group. The president’s comments came during a security meeting he convened on Thursday with caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the caretaker interior and defense ministers, and the heads of the country’s security agencies. Opposing the officers’ use of force, President Aoun cited the “importance of respecting freedom of expression while preserving public and private property and not attacking them.” He called on security forces to “control security peacefully in accordance with the applicable regulations.” Meanwhile, Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi defended the officers’ actions, saying they had “acted within the scope of controlling security and not attacking private and public property.” The Free Patriotic Movement, which the president founded, had issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the “security forces’ assault against peaceful protesters” outside Mecattaf’s office and called on Fehmi to take punitive action against “those who gave orders to attack peaceful citizens.”

Dollar payments from Banque du Liban that are needed to import basic goods are reportedly being delayed by months, calling into question the sustainability of the central bank’s subsidy programs. Two importers have told L’Orient Today that the central bank still owes them millions of dollars for subsidized food import invoices that were approved by both the central bank and the Economy Ministry and paid for in lira by the importers two to three months ago. The current subsidies program has been in place since May of last year, when Economy Minister Raoul Nehme launched a subsidized food basket, which covers 300 imported products, amid the economic crisis. Payments from BDL to importers that took two to three weeks to process when the program first launched are now, they say, subject to monthslong delays. The reported hold-ups come as outgoing Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni warned earlier this month that the country may run out of money to fund basic imports next month.

Saturday will mark the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, when 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children were killed during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon was the first Arab country to recognize the Armenian Genocide, in 2000, followed by Syria’s official recognition in February 2020. A candlelight vigil is planned for 8 p.m. on Friday at Martyrs’ Square.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Saad Hariri met briefly with Pope Francis at the Vatican Thursday morning, discussing the potential role the Vatican can play in supporting Lebanon amid its current crises. At the end of the meeting, the prime-minister designate gave the pope a piece of artwork made by third-generation Palestinian Christians in Colombia, depicting St....