Lebanese judge storms money exchange office in controversial corruption crusade

Ghada Aoun has been told by the state’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat to drop her investigations into financial crimes

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An embattled Lebanese judge forced her way into a controversial money exchanger outside Beirut on Wednesday, the day after the country’s highest judicial body reiterated a demand she stops investigating financial crimes linked to Lebanon’s economic crisis.

Supporters of Judge Ghada Aoun pulled the gates off the premises of Mecattaf – a foreign exchange business under investigation for facilitating dollar transfers overseas while banks imposed de facto capital controls on much of the public.

Ms Aoun was demanding to be able to continue her investigation into financial crimes and illegal capital flight by the Central Bank of Lebanon and associates of its governor Riyadh Salame. There was no indication she had the legal standing to undertake a search of the Mecattaf office.

Ms Aoun was accompanied into the Mecattaf building by several state security officers, who answer to the Higher Defence Council chaired by President Michel Aoun, before her supporters were dispersed by Internal Security Forces.

It is not clear if she was able to seize any material or documents from inside the building.

In dramatic scenes broadcast live across the country’s TV news network, Judge Aoun waited in her car while supporters massed around the gates of Mecattaf, eventually pulling the barrier off its hinges.

Earlier this week, Ms Aoun’s supporters clashed with security forces outside the Mecataff offices.

Wednesday's clashes came barely 24 hours after the Supreme Judicial Council demanded Ms Aoun abide by the orders of the state’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat who referred investigations into financial crimes to another judge.

There is a bitter rivalry between Ms Aoun, seen as being closely linked to the Christian Free Patriotic Movement party founded by the president – to whom she is not related – and Mr Oueidat, an ally of Sunni prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.

Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat and Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun. Courtesy NNA
Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat and Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun. Courtesy NNA

The clash reflects the country's political crisis, with both parties accusing the other of politically motivated investigations.

Last Thursday, Mr Oueidat, who technically outranks Ms Aoun, ordered her to stop investigations into the alleged financial crimes of those linked to Central Bank Governor Riaydh Salame and Mecataff Group – instructions she has so far ignored.

Mecattaf Group has denied any wrongdoing.

Critics of Ms Aoun claim she has often pursued allegations involving those on bad terms with President Aoun.

She previously clashed with Mr Oueidat over attempts to investigate former prime minister Najib Mikati's estimated $2.6 billion wealth.