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US sanctions Lebanese MP and business figures for 'profiting from pervasive corruption'

Treasury Department accuses Jamil Sayyed, Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury of corruption and enriching themselves at the Lebanese people's expense
Jamil Sayyed, the former head of Lebanon’s General Security and a sitting MP, was accused of skirting Lebanon’s banking regulations to transfer more than $120m overseas (AFP/File photo)

The United States on Thursday announced sanctions on a sitting member of Lebanon's parliament and two high-profile business owners, accusing them of "enriching themselves at the expense of the Lebanese people and state institutions".

The US Treasury Department accused Jamil Sayyed, Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury of profiting from "pervasive corruption and cronyism" by siphoning money from inflated public contracts.

"The Lebanese people deserve an end to the endemic corruption perpetuated by businessmen and politicians who have driven their country into an unprecedented crisis," Andrea Gacki, director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.

"Today's action aims to hold to account those in Lebanon’s business and political elite who have benefitted from improper tendering practices for inflated contracts and a pervasive culture of cronyism that undermines Lebanon’s institutions, rule of law, and economic stability," the Treasury added.

Washington accused Sayyed, a former head of Lebanon's General Security and a sitting MP, of skirting Lebanon's banking regulations to transfer more than $120m overseas "presumably to enrich himself and his associates".

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Meanwhile, business owners Arab and Khoury, close to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and the already sanctioned politician Gebran Bassil, were placed on the sanctions list for alleged corruption related to state contracts.

Arab, a close associate of Hariri, won a $288m contract to build a new landfill site in 2016 amid a refuse crisis in the country, while Khoury currently has a $142m contract to operate a landfill in the Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut.

"Because of close political connections, al-Arab has been awarded multiple public contracts in exchange for kickback payments to government officials," the statement read.

In a statement regarding the sanctions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington "is levying sanctions on these individuals in solidarity with the Lebanese people, who have long demanded accountability, transparency, and an end to endemic corruption".

The announcement comes a day after Saudi Arabia classified the Lebanon-based al-Qard al-Hassan association as a "terrorist" entity, citing links to activities supporting Hezbollah, state media reported.

"The association works on managing funds for the terrorist organisation [Hezbollah] and its financing, including support for military purposes," the state news agency said on Wednesday, quoting a security statement.

In May, the United States called on governments worldwide to take action against Hezbollah, and issued sanctions against seven Lebanese nationals it said were connected to the group and its financial arm, al-Qard al-Hassan.