The US has sanctioned two former Lebanese ministers over corruption and ties to Hezbollah as part of a drive to weaken and disrupt the activities of the Iranian-backed Shia militia in Lebanon.
The sanctions target former Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil who are both members of Lebanese political parties allied to Hezbollah.
Khalil, who is a serving member of the Lebanese parliament, is a senior official in the Shia Amal movement, while Fenianos is a member of the Maronite Christian Marada movement.
Both men, according to the US Treasury, have “provided material support to Hezbollah and engaged in corruption”, a statement published online said.
Fenianos allegedly received money in exchange for political favours and engaged in corruption during his tenure as a government minister. According to the statement, the former minister “[diverted] funds from the ministry to offer perks to bolster his political allies”.
Meanwhile, Khalil allegedly agreed a deal with Hezbollah to receive support from the US-designated terrorist organisation to aid his political career.
As part of the agreement, Khalil allegedly moved funds from government ministries to Hezbollah-run institutions in a way that deliberately circumvented US sanctions, the US Treasury statement said.
Under sanctions, the pair face having any assets they own in the United States, as well as financial transactions taking place in the territory, blocked.
Moreover, further Lebanese officials with ties to Hezbollah could face US sanctions, according to Senior US State Department envoy for the Middle East, David Schenker.
The US envoy was quoted by Arab News as saying, “political allies of Hezbollah should know they will be held accountable for any enabling of its terrorist and illicit activities”.
The sanctions announcement comes as Lebanon is struggling to recover from a massive explosion which devastated the capital, Beirut, on 4 August, killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more.
The blast has fuelled renewed calls both from protesters within Lebanon and the international community for an overhaul of the country’s archaic political system which has long allowed corruption to thrive.
Schenker, during a recent tour of the region, reiterated US support for reform of the system, saying, “it’s time for different politics in Lebanon… In democracies you have to choose between bullets and ballots… you cannot have both”.