What do eight Lebanese men accused of one or more offense — from terrorism to drug trafficking, organized money laundering, aggravated breach of trust, corruption and sexual assault — have in common?
They are all on Interpol’s wanted list. Of the 6,975 red notices issued by the International Criminal Police Organization, eight target Lebanese citizens.
These notices are not international arrest warrants, but rather a request to law enforcement bodies worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action.
Who was the last one to join this exclusive club of fugitives? The current Banque du Liban (BDL) Governor Riad Salameh, who is wanted by France on suspicion of financial wrongdoing.
The banker is the subject of several investigations in Lebanon and Europe, where he is suspected of having built up a wealth of real estate and banking assets through complex financial arrangements and massive misappropriation of public funds. The BDL chief has repeatedly denied the accusations against him.
The red notice was handed to the Lebanese authorities on May 19, one year to the day after France delivered a similar notice against ex Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, who is wanted by Paris as part of an investigation into misuse of company assets, money laundering and corruption.
On Dec. 30, 2019, when Ghosn fled Japan, Interpol also sent a red notice to Beirut.
Ghosn and Salameh cannot leave Lebanese territory, as they risk being arrested in other jurisdictions they enter, since international arrest warrants have been issued against them.
The eight Lebanese wanted by Interpol are protected, since Lebanon does not hand over its nationals. Who are the other six Lebanese on Interpol’s list?
Husayn al-Umari, aka Abu Ibrahim, is of Palestinian origin. He was born in Jaffa in 1936 and is wanted by the US authorities for his role in a 1982 plane bombing. On Aug. 11, 1982, a bomb believed to have been designed and manufactured by Umari exploded on Pan Am flight 830, with 267 passengers and crew on board, as it was in flight from Tokyo to Honolulu. The explosion damaged the jet, killed one passenger and injured 16 others.
Umari was indicted in the US along with two others in connection with the attack. The plane bomb was not the only attack in which he was allegedly involved: the French government also accused him of involvement in the 1985 bombing of Paris branches of the Marks & Spencer department store and the Israeli Leumi Bank.
Since 2009, he has been on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list, and the US State Department is offering a $5 million reward in exchange for information [leading to his whereabouts]. When the FBI made the announcement, Lebanese media claimed to have traced Abu Ibrahim, a well-known figure in Palestinian armed resistance circles in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, where his wife is said to be from. Were the reports misleading? In any case, the 87-year-old is still free.
Hussein Suleiman, born in 1960 in the South Lebanon area of Khiam, is linked to Hezbollah and accused by Argentina of conducting two attacks. The first is the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which left 29 dead and over 200 wounded,and the second, two years later in 1994, is the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, AMIA, which killed 84 and wounded 230.
One of the masterminds of these two operations is said to have been Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah commander killed by Mossad in Syria in 2008.
In 2001, Suleiman was arrested in Jordan, where he reportedly confessed to having traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, in 1991, and then transported to Buenos Aires the explosives used in the deadly blasts.
What happened next remains a mystery. Did he escape Jordanian police custody? Is he still in Jordan? Is he hiding in Lebanon?
An international arrest warrant was issued against him in 2015, but the man has yet to be found.
Mohammad Akra, born in 1962 in Kuwait, is wanted by Romania for trafficking high-risk drugs and attempted international drug trafficking.
Georges Fares Bejjani
Georges Fares Bejjani, 32, a dual French and Lebanese citizen from Beit Shabab, is wanted by Brazil on drug trafficking charges.
The seventh Lebanese with an Interpol red notice against him has been sentenced in Paraguay. Ali Fouani, now 35, a native of Zahle, went on the run for a few days in Brazil in 2016 before surrendering to the Paraguayan authorities, who sentenced him in 2018 to 14 years in prison for repeatedly torturing his girlfriend’s 16-month-old baby.
His girlfriend, a 17-year-old cocaine addict, took her unconscious baby to hospital after an argument, local media outlets reported, adding that the infant had been beaten, burned with cigarettes and had his fingernails torn out.
According to Paraguayan media reports, Fouani is now incarcerated. It is therefore possible that Interpol has not removed the red notice against him from its website. L’Orient-Le Jour contacted Interpol for clarification on this matter, but at the time of publication had not yet received a response.
The last Lebanese fugitive is wanted for sexual assault committed in 2006 in the US state of Texas. He is Marwan Sweidan, who at the time of the alleged assault was 35. He is from Beirut.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.