Prosecutor General at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidat sent a circular on Tuesday to Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun, enjoining her to suspend her investigations into the banks she is prosecuting until the judicial requests and lawsuits brought against her by these same banks are ruled upon.
Oueidat’s move comes a week after Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, acting at the request of the caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, prohibited the security forces that work under his supervision to enforce Judge Aoun’s decisions.
The latter is subject to dismissal requests, which she has refused to be notified of, as well as lawsuits against the state alleging serious faults by the judge. Once filed with the clerk of the Court of Cassation’s general assembly, these legal actions should have removed Judge Aoun from the banks-related case she is handling. Yet, she continues to take legal actions against several banks.
Although the legality of Aoun’s actions is a subject of controversy, Mikati’s and Mawlawi’s decisions have not been immune to criticism in judicial circles, where they have been described as blatant interference in the judiciary.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, a judge close to the Court of Cassation’s Public Prosecutor’s Office said that through his order to Aoun, Oueidat “used his role as superior, which he should have used even before the caretaker prime minister undertook his approach.”
Another judge said that “the mounting anger” against Judge Aoun has probably accelerated this request, in particular in reference to the banking circles.
Karim Daher, lawyer and president of the Lebanese Association for Taxpayers' Rights (ALDIC), said “Ghassan Oueidat asked Judge Aoun to stop the proceedings against the banks, which is likely to meet the requirements of politicians and banks.”
“This new judicial development postpones the proceedings against the banks, since the legal actions against the prosecutor can be examined only when the [composition of] the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation is completed, i.e. when the retired members are replaced,” he said.
The appointment of judges to the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation is actually blocked because the caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil is blocking the draft decree shuffling judges within the Court of Cassation, under sectarian-related pretexts.
A circular acting as a guideline
Oueidat on Tuesday issued another circular in which he stated that “the new banking secrecy law (2/11/2022) does not apply to CEOs and other bank officials, and requires them to submit all information required by the competent courts as soon as they are asked to.”
Daher said in this regard that the prosecutor is reminding bankers that they cannot use banking secrecy as an excuse to refrain from delivering the data. He noted that “Oueidat referred to paragraph b of Article 2 of the law, which states that the lifting of banking secrecy does not benefit bank officials currently in office or who were appointed to their posts starting 1988.”
“The law has therefore a retroactive effect, and its retroactivity was confirmed in January by the Constitutional Council, while the banks continue to challenge it,” Daher added.
Several banks probed by Aoun have refused to hand over data that go back to before the enactment of the banking secrecy law; Aoun asked them for documents dating back to 2016.
In the same circular, the top public prosecutor instructed the Appellate public prosecutors’ offices, the financial public prosecutor’s office and the government commissioner at the military court about the process to be followed when seeking information from banks as part of their investigations.
In particular, he required them to specify which information they are requesting (statements of accounts, documents, etc.) and the identity of the persons targeted by their requests, so as to avoid confusion with other persons.
Oueidat also required them to present to the banks a summary of the record on the basis of which they are suspected.
In short, Oueidat’s circular is a real guideline for the whole of judiciary, in an attempt to restore order in relation to this file.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.