BEIRUT: Raids by Lebanese security forces uncovered millions of liters of subsidized fuel hidden in underground tanks to later be sold on the black market at new prices. Some of the tanks were simply covered with sand.
“Monopolized” drugs and infant formula were also seized.
The news of the hoarding has only added to the anger of Lebanese citizens, who have suffered for months from exhausting shortages of fuel and medicine. Long queues at gas stations and empty drugstore shelves are common across the country.
The largest amounts of hidden subsidized fuel were found at Hawsh Al-Omara in Zahle, Bekaa, where more than 1.5 million liters of gasoline were seized.
Scenes of interim Health Minister Hamad Hassan raiding depots in southern Lebanon and the Chouf region that contained drugs missing from pharmacies also left citizens furious.
The depots contained drugs that could treat patients with coronavirus (COVID-19), blood pressure and breathing problems. Antibiotics and thousands of infant formulas – all subsidized at the official rate ($ 1 = 1,500 LBP) – have also been discovered.
“The raids are based on a ‘monopolized’ medicine electronic tracking system,” Hassan said. “The system is very precise and precise.
The raid operation revealed a partnership between Hussein Fneish, brother of Hezbollah Minister Mohammed Fneish, and Issam Ahmed Khalifa, of the NewPharm company in Lebanon.
However, the timing of Hassan’s raids has been criticized. The Central Bank of Lebanon has not opened credit lines for imports for three months, as laws have been put in place to ban free imports.
“These security campaigns and raids should have been carried out earlier,” Issam Araji, head of the parliamentary health committee, told Arab News.
“Medication and fuel should never have been stockpiled. Following these raids, Lebanon appeared like a floating city in a sea of gasoline and diesel. What is dangerous is that the fuel was stored in residential areas.
Araji, who is also a cardiologist, said he had warned authorities against hoarding the drugs for more than a year.
“But they insisted that people were storing the drugs in their homes,” Araji said. “People cannot afford their daily bread, how could they store all the medicine? I think the Minister of Health has finally decided to act because he has received information about companies hiding and stocking the drug. These campaigns will all be in vain unless the offenders are punished to deter others. “
Although the country has started offloading ships of imported fuel and distributing it to gas stations, the lines outside gas stations did not shorten on Wednesday. Most drivers parked overnight and slept in their cars, hoping to refuel in the morning.
Adnan Naccouzi, 69, suffered a stroke while waiting in a long line for gasoline in hot weather and without clean water. He has been recovering inside the intensive care unit of a Beirut hospital for 24 hours.
Authorities said the fuel would be sold at the new prices, as part of a gradual reduction in fuel subsidies.
On Wednesday, a 20-liter can of gasoline was sold for 133,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 88) and the same can of diesel for 99,000 pounds. The cost of transportation automatically increased, where the fare rose to 20,000 pounds for each passenger; more than double the price the day before.
Despite public calls to arrest monopolists and put them in jail, hoarding is classified by the Lebanese penal code as a misdemeanor and punishable by either a fine or up to six months in prison.
Meanwhile, Judge Ghada Aoun issued a search and investigation warrant against the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh. It comes five days after setting a date for an investigative session – which he did not attend – into charges of money laundering and overseas money transfers.
In April, Lebanese State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat dismissed Judge Aoun from his post. But she insisted on continuing her investigations and broke into a foreign exchange company with the help of activists from the Free Patriotic Movement.
In other developments, the country’s interim prime minister Hassan Diab will not appear before Judge Tarek Bitar, who is investigating the Beirut explosion last year. Diab was supposed to be questioned as a defendant in the case on Thursday, but insisted he be questioned by the Supreme Council for the trial of presidents and ministers.
Judge Fadi Sawan, the investigating judge who preceded Bitar, listened to Diab’s testimony as a witness over a year ago. In this testimony, Diab acknowledged the presence of ammonium nitrate illegally stored in the port and explained why he had changed his mind about the site visit just days before the explosion.