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Dockside dealings: Smuggling, bribery, tax evasion rampant at Beirut port

10 9 3

BEIRUT (AFP) — The huge explosion at Beirut’s port last month laid bare a dockside institution riddled with graft which critics say is a microcosm of a corrupt Lebanese state.

Smuggling, customs tax evasion and widespread bribery are just a few common violations at the port, which like all public institutions is riddled with the kind of corruption that has become characteristic of Lebanon’s under-fire ruling elite.

The powerful Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement has a “free pass” there because of its ties to customs and port officials, according to a former judicial official. But Hezbollah is not alone.

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Lebanon’s top political parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by President Michel Aoun, the Amal Movement of parliament speaker Nabih Berri and the Future Movement, headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, all share the spoils, according to experts and security officials.

“The port is one of the most corrupt institutions, both within the management and the customs service,” said Mohammad Chamseddine of the Beirut-based research and consultancy firm Information International.

After Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, the port’s management was handed to a temporary public commission that was never replaced. To this day, it runs the seaport as if it were a “private business,” Chamseddine said.

As is the common practice in the multi-confessional country, Lebanon’s political parties shared out the commission’s seven seats among themselves in line with a broader power-sharing arrangement.

Direct links between the political elite and members of the commission have allowed for the port to be managed in the same corrupt way as the state.

“There is no efficient government oversight, whether on income or expenses,” Chamseddine told AFP.........

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