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Lebanon: 12 charged in tainted oil from Algeria case

Barrels of oil [Daan Franken/Flickr]
Barrels of oil, 26 March 2020 [Daan Franken/Flickr]

The Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Ghada Aoun yesterday charged 12 people, including government officials, over the import of tainted fuel to Lebanon, the country's National News Agency (NNA) reported.

The General Manager of the Electricité du Liban Kamal Hayek was among those charged for negligence of duty. While, the Ministry of Energy and Water's Chief of oil installations Sarkiss Hlaiss, and Director of oil Aurore Feghaly, were charged for both negligence of duty and receiving unwarranted benefits from ZR Energy.

The case initially made headlines after Lebanon refused a fuel shipment from Algerian state company Sonatrach in March. Contrary to official reports, the fuel was found to be "non-compliant" for use in Lebanese power plants.

The tainted fuel was reportedly discovered onboard a "Baltic" ship, according to a tweet by former Energy Minster Nada Boustani. Despite the discovery, however, the fuel was used in the Jiyeh, near the southern city of Sidon, and Zouk, north of Beirut, power plants, which, according to a report by Lebanese daily Al Akbar, are not currently operating as a result.

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A legal complaint on the import of tainted fuel sources was submitted to Prosecutor Aoun by lawyer, and member of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) political party, Wadih Akl, in April.

The complaint led to the Information branch of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces raiding the Beirut offices of ZR Energy, which acted as an intermediary with Sonatrach to import the fuel.

The raid unearthed hidden documents, prompting an investigation and the arrest of 21 employees from the Energy Ministry and ZR Energy, including senior members of the company.

Arrest warrants have now been issued in absentia for ZR Energy head Teddy Rahme, General Manager Ibrahim Al-Zouk and another of the company's employees.

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Sontrach said in a statement, the media had targeted the company with a "malicious and systematic campaign" of defamation, AFP reported.

Adding that the company, which has provided fuel to the Lebanese electricity sector since 2005, was "not responsible… for any violation, crime, offence or any alleged transgression that could have occurred to any fuel shipment".

A presidential spokesman in Algeria said, "Algeria as a country is not involved, but maybe individuals", adding that an investigation had been ordered into the matter.

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