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Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has scheduled a cabinet session for tomorrow to discuss solutions to Electricité du Liban’s fuel shortages; meanwhile, caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad attempted to obtain prior approval for fuel financing from other ministers. Controversy over the caretaker cabinet’s ability to meet amid the presidential vacuum opened by the end of Michel Aoun’s term on Oct. 31 stalled the approval of funding for fuel to power EDL power plants, of which the two largest, Zahrani (South Lebanon) and Deir Ammar (North Lebanon), have been shut down for weeks. In a supposed effort to supersede a cabinet meeting, Fayad — who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement that boycotted an earlier government meeting during which medicine import financing and other expenses were approved — requested other ministers’ signatures on a decree demanding a $300 million treasury advance to pay for the cargo of four fuel ships stationed off Lebanon’s coast and for future imports. The energy minister added that he requested approval to renew an agreement under which Lebanon, in exchange for unspecified services, receives Iraqi fuel that it can barter for hydrocarbons usable in its power plants. Increased electricity tariffs expected to finance fuel imports, back billed to November, will be applicable at the end of February.
State Security released activists William Noun and Peter Bou Saab after they were transferred to its custody by the judicial police, who had questioned them and nine others for charges of rioting and vandalism during a protest against the stalled Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast investigation. “We demand justice for the Aug. 4 [explosion] and I am responsible for everything I say,” Noun said following his and Bou Saab’s release, after the pair were taken to State Security custody for questioning related to comments allegedly seen as threatening the judiciary. The judicial police released the nine other suspects. State Security already detained William Noun from Friday to Saturday over the controversial comments amid a series of protests demanding his release. Demonstrators, including blast victims’ relatives, activists and MPs Michel Douaihy, Cynthia Zarazir, Mark Daou and Najat Saliba, protested the arrest outside the Verdun barracks in Beirut. Thirteen people were summoned by the judicial police after participating in last week’s protest to demand the resumption of the probe, which remains stalled — rulings on the complaints against lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar cannot be issued until separate complaints against the judges assigned to the cases are settled, which in turn requires the restoration of quorum to the Plenary Assembly of the Court of Cassation.
A delegation of European judges visiting Beirut held their first day of hearings in an investigation into alleged corruption and money laundering by central bank governor Riad Salameh. Investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg carried out the questioning with the help of two Lebanese judges. Saad Andary, a former central bank vice governor, and Khalil Assaf, a former employee at the banking control commission, did not attend their scheduled hearings due to illness, a source close to Assaf told L’Orient Today. Due to a lack of warrants from the Lebanese judiciary, attendance is not compulsory. The collectives Mouttahidoun and Cry of the Depositors on Sunday called for a sit-in in front of Beirut Justice Palace today in parallel with the European judges’ visit — scheduled the same day to question banker Marwan Kheireddine and former Banque du Liban vice governor Ahmad Jachi. A judicial official told French news agency Agence France-Presse that Salameh will not be questioned at this stage of the investigation. The three European countries launched a probe into Salameh last year, leading to a multimillion-euro asset seizure and charges against his former romantic partner.
General Security will renew issuing biometric passports today after a hiatus of “several months,” the state institution’s media office head Mounir Akiki confirmed to L’Orient Today. Akiki also told L’Orient Today that General Security will gradually reschedule passport renewal appointments to take place sooner. He added that applicants whose dates will be brought forward will be notified by text message, as many citizens face up to a year in wait time for such appointments. Due to a supply shortage, General Security had been issuing non-biometric passports, maintaining that the travel documents are “internationally recognized and have the same effects as biometric passports and do not cause their holders any problems.” After months of the passport crisis stranding citizens in Lebanon in lengthy queues to renew their travel documents, General Security head Abbas Ibrahim earlier this month announced that as of February passport renewal would proceed at pre-crisis levels.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Riad Naboulsi, the Lebanese surgeon who became Hungary’s king of cheese”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz