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Beirut port customs chief arrested in Saudi drug-smuggling case

November 6, 2020 at 12:14 pm

A view of the Port of Beirut after a fire at a warehouse with explosives led to massive blasts on 4th August in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 August 2020 [Aysu Biçer/Anadolu Agency]

Beirut port’s customs chief has been arrested in a drug-smuggling case involving a Saudi Arabian prince, Al-Jazeera has reported. Badri Daher was arrested on suspicion that he accepted bribes, wasted public funds and misused his position, allowing a Saudi prince involved in drug-smuggling to leave Lebanon without paying a multi-million dollar fine.

A warrant for Daher’s arrest was issued on Tuesday by Beirut Investigative Judge Charbel Abu Samra. He is already in custody, however, facing allegations that his wilful negligence led to the massive 4 August explosion at the port that killed more than 200 people. At least 24 others have been apprehended as part of the probe into the blast, although no formal action has yet been taken against anyone.

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The latest arrest warrant says that Daher is accused of illegally lifting a travel ban on Saudi Prince Abdel Mohsen Bin Walid Bin Abdulaziz in July. According to Al-Jazeera, the Saudi prince had been serving a 5-year prison sentence for attempting to smuggle nearly two tonnes of Captagon, an amphetamine-based synthetic stimulant, into Lebanon on a private jet in October 2015.

The cache of drugs was discovered by Lebanese custom officials who demanded to search the prince’s luggage, despite his diplomatic status. Bin Walid, 34, had attempted to conceal the stash in several cardboard boxes which were pasted with his name, the word “private” and the green palm tree and crossed-swords emblem of Saudi Arabia.

After completing his sentence, Lebanese customs law dictated that the prince should have been prevented from leaving the country until he had paid the fine of either double or triple the value of the goods seized. Daher apparently imposed a travel ban on Bin Walid in February this year in an attempt to make sure that he did not leave Lebanon before paying the fine.

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At the time, the fine was set at $43.5 million, based on the Lebanese currency’s official exchange rate, amounting to double the estimated value of the drugs which were seized. In a private letter, said Al-Jazeera, Bin Walid asked Daher to reduce the fine by half. The request was reportedly approved by Daher as well as other customs officials.

However, in July the travel ban on the prince was lifted at Daher’s request, despite the fine remaining unpaid. Daher has since claimed when questioned by the financial public prosecutor that he requested the travel ban to be lifted at the behest of Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The Saudi Arabian prince is believed to have returned home from Beirut earlier this year.

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