BEIRUT — Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati Saturday summoned cabinet for a "special" session on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss the repatriation of Syrian refugees and the appointment of two French lawyers to represent Lebanon in the legal proceedings France has brought against Central Bank governor Riad Salameh.
The ministers will examine a request from caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury to set up a private agreement with two French criminal lawyers to assist the head of the State Litigation Department, judge Hélène Iskandar, in the case against Anna Kosakova the BDL governor's former companion.
France's National Prosecutor's Office (PNF) questioned Kosakova in early December, following her indictment in June 2022 for "criminal conspiracy," "organized money laundering" and "aggravated tax fraud" in the case of BDL's alleged embezzlement to the detriment of the Lebanese state.
The caretaker Justice Minister defended the appointment of lawyers Emmanuel Daoud and Pascal Beauvais, chosen last March by Hélène Iskandar, to represent Lebanon's interests in this case.
The government strongly criticized this decision and during a cabinet meeting requested that other names be proposed.
Cabinet justified its decision on the grounds Daoud was linked to an organization "suspected of promoting Zionist ideas."
Khoury denied this claim.
Mikati postponed a cabinet meeting to decide on this issue tt the end of May, after Khoury refused to attend. However, The minister explained that the postponement was due to Mikati's wanting to examine the criminal lawyers' resumes.
The BDL governor has been targeted by several investigations in Lebanon and Europe concerning his accumulation of real estate assets — and is the subject of two Interpol red notices following international arrest warrants issued by the French and German courts.
He has denied the charges brought against him. Lebanon does not extradite its nationals to other countries.
Lebanese authorities then questioned Salameh, forbade him from leaving the country and seized both his Lebanese and French passports.
The Mikati cabinet will also consider the repatriation of Syrian refugees, a demand that regularly causes a stir on the local scene. According to estimates by the Lebanese authorities, over 2 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, while the UN has recorded only 830,000.
Their presence is seen by some Lebanese groups as a major demographic, economic and security issue, especially as the country is going through a severe socio-economic crisis. Rights groups have warned that returning to Syria remains dangerous for many refugees, given the ongoing fighting, state torture and enforced disappearances.
In early June, Mikati said his government planned to form a ministerial delegation to go to Damascus and discuss the Syrian refugee issue with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Lebanon has been without a president since Oct. 2022, when Michel Aoun's term of office came to an end.
Meanwhile, cabinet has been running day-to-day affairs since May 2022, the day after the most-recent legislative elections. Without a head of state, the government has limited prerogatives. Lebanon has been in serious economic crisis since 2019.