Lebanon: Former pharmacists' chief arrested over hoarded medicines

Rabih Hassouna is close to former premier Saad Hariri’s Future movement

Cancer patients protest in Beirut against shortages of medicines that threaten the treatment of tens of thousands of people. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The former head of Lebanon's pharmacists syndicate has been arrested on suspicion of hoarding large quantities of drugs while the country suffers from acute shortages of medicines, a prosecutor told local media.

Authorities arrested Rabih Hassouna at a time when Lebanese are scrambling to find essential medication. The country's economic collapse has limited imports of subsidised drugs.

“Mr Hassouna was arrested yesterday,” prosecutor Ali Ibrahim told local broadcaster LBCI on Sunday.

Mr Ibrahim said drugs were seized in the operation and sold to pharmacies at official prices.

Mr Hassouna was a candidate in the 2018 parliamentary elections for former prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.

The rare arrest of a politically affiliated individual and former leader of a professional organisation is seen by many as the latest example of deeply entrenched corruption in Lebanon.

At least four other people have been arrested in connection with hoarding medicines, Mr Ibrahim said.

Angry social media users shared videos of army intelligence raiding a Beirut warehouse, said to be used by Mr Hassouna, which was filled with hundreds of boxes of medication.

Local media reported that the army found expired cancer medicines at the warehouse, days after cancer patients held a protest pleading with authorities to secure the life-saving drugs they need.

Lebanon’s economy has been collapsing since late 2019. A shortage of foreign currencies, decades of corruption and mismanagement pushed the Lebanese pound to lose more than 90 per cent of its value.

Access to medication, fuel and other subsidised goods imported in scarce dollars has been severely limited for the past year.

Lebanon’s caretaker public health minister Hamad Hassan conducted raids on several warehouses last week.

They were allegedly stockpiling medicines to sell at higher prices.

Local media reported that authorities found hoarded medication in a warehouse that belongs to a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party founded by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

The army also said it confiscated 54,000 litres of fuel and 12 tonnes of gas this week.

The products allegedly belong to Ibrahim Sakr, who is linked to the Lebanese Forces, another Christian political party. Another raided warehouse was also owned by a Hezbollah-affiliated pharmacist.

Mr Sakr is being prosecuted for hoarding fuel, Mr Ibrahim said.

Updated: August 29, 2021, 5:40 PM