BEIRUT — Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi ordered security forces Wednesday not to implement decisions made by Mount Lebanon's Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun, who has in recent days launched legal proceedings against several banks.
Mawlawi's decision comes after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sent him a letter on the matter.
Mikati's letter asked Mawlawi to take "appropriate measures based on the current circumstances" regarding Aoun's proceedings.
Afterward, Judge Aoun took to Twitter to accuse Mikati of "interfering" in the work of the judiciary.
In his letter stamped "very urgent" addressed to the Directorate General of Internal Security Forces and the Directorate of General Security, Mawlawi asked the security bodies "not to accompany" Judge Aoun and not to "enforce her decisions."
The minister said that this request is based on the letter sent by Najib Mikati.
The judge, who has been ramping up proceedings against banks for at least a year, recently initiated decisions against the Société Générale de Banque au Liban (SGBL) and its CEO Antoun Sehnaoui, as well as against Bank Audi, for "money laundering" after they failed to comply with a deadline to hand over documents.
Judge Aoun had demanded the documents as part of her investigation into Lebanon's banking institutions.
She previously warned that she would prosecute any bank that refused to provide her with the account statements of its chairpeople, board members, auditors and supervisory committees.
On Tuesday, the prosecutor also sealed the premises of Bank of Beirut's data center in Mansourieh, Metn.
"In order to prevent any misinterpretation of the letter sent by Mikati to [caretaker] Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, we want to assure that the [caretaker] Prime Minister has never interfered and will never interfere with the work of justice. He relies on the data provided to him, which includes a detailed account of the offenses attributable to some judges,” said a statement from Mikati's press office.
The statement also noted the work of the judges "must remain linked to a practice that complies with the law and does not undermine the legal bases ... "[it is] the responsibility of everyone to preserve the banking sector without this meaning that every bank is spared from prosecution.”
In his letter, Mikati stressed that the judge should no longer be in charge of cases concerning banks. He argued in particular that she is the subject of an appeal filed by representatives of banks to be removed from these cases.
The fact that the prosecutor "continues to control the investigation" into the banks "violates the law," Mikati said in his letter.
The caretaker prime minister also criticized Judge Aoun for targeting "one of the components of the national economy," namely the banks, which he said is "the responsibility of all to preserve."
Mikati cited Article 751 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which says that if a judge is the subject of a complaint, they may not take any action against the person who filed that complaint.
'The proper functioning of justice'
Faced with this situation, Mikati demanded from Mawlawi to take the "appropriate procedures and measures, permitted by the laws and regulations concerned, to enforce the provisions of the law and prevent any violation, and preserve the proper functioning of justice."
Judge Aoun reacted quickly to the letter sent by Mikati. In a tweet written in French, she launched an "urgent appeal to international bodies and the European Parliament."
According to her, Mikati "is blatantly interfering in justice in order to stop the investigations that I am conducting in the case of banks and money laundering, in defense of the rule of law."
Wednesday evening, the Free Patriotic Movement issued a statement accusing Mikati of “taking advantage of the presidential vacuum and acting as if the constitutional system of government is complete in the absence of the head of state.”