by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- The European Parliament, along with lawyers and political activists, has been recently working with the Lebanese new cabinet to start an investigation into the alleged stolen public funds in Lebanon.
These moves came after Nour al-Ayoubi, a member of Tripoli's Municipality Council, said in a notice in November 2019 that most of the money allocated by the European Union (EU) in 2004 for building a waste management factory in Tripoli, Lebanon's northern city, has disappeared and only a small and poorly operating factory was built.
Experts told Xinhua that al-Ayoubi's notice opened the door for more investigations into public money squandering practices by Lebanese politicians and officials.
The issue of alleged stolen public funds has been particularly highlighted in Lebanon following the transfer of billions of dollars by big depositors from Lebanese banks to European and Swiss banks amid Lebanon's nationwide protests since Oct. 17 of last year, causing a crisis of shortage in U.S. dollar in the country.
The Lebanese become increasingly curious at the identity of the people controlling big amounts of money, especially at a time when they keep complaining about the absence of basic services in Lebanon which is widely recognized to receive support from international donors over the past years.
Lebanese political activist Omar Harfouch told Xinhua that the first step to recuperate any stolen funds from Lebanon is to elect an independent judiciary body capable of acting in an independent manner without allowing any political intervention.
"We are currently pushing for this step to take place but then we should receive a mandate from Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab to follow up on this issue, which will allow us to freeze funds and assets of Lebanese officials and their families in Europe and Switzerland ahead of investigations," Harfouch said.
When he assumed responsibility as prime minister, Diab vowed to follow up seriously on the issue of alleged stolen public funds.
Firas Abi Younes, a lawyer of Houkoukiyoun Group, a group of Lebanese lawyers working on these cases with foreign lawyers in different European countries, praised the approach pursued by Harfouch which is "traditional and fast," but will not necessarily work since the ruling political class will not facilitate the process.
Abi Younes said that Houkoukiyoun is adopting a different approach for recuperating stolen money which is by cooperating with foreign agencies tasked with economic investigations in Switzerland and other European countries whose job is to investigate the money and assets owned by officials around the world.
"European systems have improved their legislations in a way that allows such official agencies to work on securing information about assets and funds of officials and politicians," Abi Younes explained, adding such a process gives a great hope for Lebanon to recuperate its lost money.