Lebanese president says central bank audit must continue

President Michel Aoun's remarks follow the withdrawal of an independent auditor

epa08834874 A handout photo made available by the Lebanese official agency Dalati and Nohra shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivering a televized address on the eve of the 77th Independence Day, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, 21 November 2020. The Lebanese Presidency announced on 18 November 2020 that all types of national celebrations on the occasion of Lebanon's 77th Independence Day will be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.  EPA/DALATI&NOHRA HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that a forensic audit of the central bank was vital to combat corruption and that he would put it back on track following the withdrawal of the consultancy hired to do the investigation.

Mr Aoun said "interest-driven roadblocks" had derailed the audit, which is an important condition for foreign donors to help Lebanon out of a deep financial crisis that has posed the biggest threat to its stability since its 1975-1990 civil war.

Among Lebanon's crises are growing poverty, a political vacuum, coronavirus and the fallout from a massive explosion at Beirut port in August that killed at least 200 people.

"Our reality today is not promising," Mr Aoun said in a televised speech to mark Independence Day, adding that Lebanon was a prisoner of corruption, political scheming and external dictations.

"If we want statehood, then we must fight corruption ... and this begins by imposing the forensic financial audit," he said, adding he would not "back off" on the issue.

The caretaker finance minister announced on Friday that the restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal had pulled out of the audit because the central bank did not provide all the information required to carry out the task, citing bank secrecy.

Lebanon has not yet formed a new government since the last one was brought down by the blast. Saad Hariri, the Sunni prime minister-designate under a sectarian power-sharing agreement, is struggling to form a Cabinet amid turf wars.

France, the US and other donors have made clear there would be no bailout unless a credible government is formed to enact long-demanded reforms to tackle endemic waste, corruption and mismanagement.

Mr Aoun said unified criteria should be used to form a government, referring to what official sources say has been his insistence – along with his influential son-in-law, Gebran Bassil – on nominating Christian ministers.

The president also touched on US-mediated talks between long-time foes Lebanon and Israel to demarcate their sea border, saying he hoped they would bear fruit but that Lebanon would hold on to its "full sovereign borders".