AOUN CHAIRS MEETING AT BAABDA PALACE OVER KSA’S DECISION TO BAN AGRICULTURAL IMPORTS, DRUG SMUGGLING FROM LEBANON

President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, stressed the need for strictness in combating smuggling operations and those behind them, stressing Lebanon's keenness to maintain the best relations with brotherly Arab countries, protect security and stability in them, and not to endanger their safety and their children to any danger.

The President called for the completion of the process of purchasing "Scanners" to be placed at the crossings scheduled since July 2020, for which a decree was issued, as soon as possible to help customs observers carry out the tasks required of them.

For his part, Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Diab affirmed that “The Lebanese state will carry out its duties in terms of more strictness to prosecute drug smuggling networks”, expressing Lebanon's keenness on better relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with all the Gulf states and Arab countries. Premier Diab said “We are definitely with the Kingdom in fighting the smuggling networks with their Lebanese and Saudi branches and their strings extended in many countries, and with the prosecution of those involved, whether they are Lebanese or Saudis, or from any country”, hoping for the cooperation of the agencies in the two countries and in all Arab countries, to pursue and dismantle the smuggling networks.

The positions of President Aoun and PM Diab came during a meeting held this afternoon in Baabda Palace, devoted to discuss the decision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to stop agricultural imports from Lebanon.

The meeting took several decisions, most prominent of which is to request the discriminatory public prosecutor to complete and follow up the necessary investigations to uncover everything related to the smuggling of narcotic substances in shipments of vegetables and fruits that entered the Lebanese territories, and to request the military and security forces, customs and relevant departments to be strict and not tolerate at all in the procedures leading to preventing smuggling of all kinds from the Lebanese borders and to any party, and assigning the Minister of Interior and Municipalities to communicate and coordinate with the relevant authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to follow up research into the procedures to discover the perpetrators and prevent the recurrence of such condemned practices.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense Zeina Akar, Foreign and Expatriate Minister, Charbel Wehbe, Finance, Ghazi Wazni, Economy and Trade Raoul Nehme, Interior and Municipalities Mohammad Fahmy, Industry Imad Hob Allah, Agriculture and Culture Abbas Mortada, and Prosecutor General of Discrimination Judge Ghassan Oweidat.

Also participating in the meeting were: Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, Director General of the Internal Security Forces Major General Imad Othman, Director General of State Security Major General Tony Saliba, Director General of Public Security at the Agency Brigadier General Elias Al-Bisri, Assistant Director General of State Security Brigadier General Samir Sinan, Director Intelligence Brigadier General Antoine Kahwagi, Head of the Information Branch in the Internal Security Forces, Brigadier Khaled Hammoud, Director of Information at the General Directorate of Public Security Brigadier General Yusuf Al-Medawar, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Customs Brigadier Asaad Al-Toufaily, Director General of Customs in charge of Mr. Raymond Khoury, Director General of Agriculture Eng. Louis Lahoud, Head of the Bekaa Growers and Peasants Association Mr. Ibrahim Tarshihi, President of the Syndicate of Importers and Exporters of Vegetables and Fruits Mr. Naeem Khalil, the officer in charge of following up the file of drug smuggling to Saudi Arabia, Lieutenant Antoine Kozaily, Director General of the Presidency of the Republic, Dr. Antoine Choucair, and the security and military advisor to the President of the Republic, Brigadier General Boulos Matar.

Statement:

After the meeting, Presidency Director General, Dr. Antoine Choucair, read tge following statement:

“His Excellency the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, chaired a meeting today, Monday, at the Baabda Palace, devoted to discuss the decision of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in preventing the entry of Lebanese agricultural products into their lands or transit through them.

The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Diab, ministers of defense, interior, municipalities, finance, foreign affairs, agriculture, economy, trade and industry, the discriminatory public prosecutor, leaders of the military, security and customs agencies, and a number of stakeholders in the agricultural sector, including farmers and exporters.

His Excellency the President started the meeting by referring to the danger of smuggling drugs, fuel and other materials, because this is costing Lebanon dearly, and the recent smuggling operation to Saudi Arabia confirms this, knowing that Lebanon is keen not to endanger the safety of the Arab countries and their sons.

President Aoun inquired about the reasons for the delay in purchasing "Scanners" to place them at the crossings, despite the decision taken since July 2020 to purchase the devices and the issuance of a decree to that effect, calling for the completion of the purchase process as soon as possible to help customs observers carry out the tasks required of them. In addition, President Aoun stressed the need for the military, security and customs agencies to be strict in combating smuggling operations and those behind them, stressing Lebanon's keenness to maintain the best relations with all countries, especially the brotherly Arab countries, and to protect security and stability in them.

Then Prime Minister Diab said: “It is normal that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the right to protect its citizens from social ills, including drugs. This is the right of all Gulf states, Arab countries, and countries of the world.

Drug smuggling is a global issue, from which all countries suffer in the face of global gangs, mafias and networks.

Lebanon also faces these mafias, our society is suffering, and the state is fighting the spread of drugs.

In fact, this issue requires cooperation between all countries to confront the danger of spreading drug trafficking, smuggling and abuse.

Brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia surprised us with the decision to stop importing agricultural materials from Lebanon.

Of course, the Lebanese state, and the Lebanese, do not accept any harm to the Saudi brothers, and we are keen on the best relations with the Kingdom. We certainly are with the Kingdom in fighting the smuggling networks with their Lebanese and Saudi branches and their strings extended in many countries, and with the prosecution of those involved, whether they are Lebanese or Saudis, or from any country.

Therefore, we hope for cooperation of the services in the two countries and in all Arab countries, to pursue and dismantle the drug smuggling networks.

We affirm our keenness to maintain the best relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and with all the Gulf states and Arab countries, and our keenness to protect our societies from the scourge of drugs, their trade and smuggling.

We are confident that the Kingdom and all the Gulf countries know well that stopping the import of Lebanese crops does not prevent drug smuggling that uses different routes, and that cooperation between us helps to control these networks.

Consequently, we are also confident that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are keen on Lebanon, especially in light of the crisis it is going through at this stage, and that they will not be a cause of increasing the suffering of the Lebanese.

We are betting on the wisdom of the brothers in KSA and the Gulf states, and the Lebanese state will carry out its duties in terms of more militancy in the pursuit of drug smuggling networks”.

Then the meeting addresses the circumstances that accompanied the Saudi decision and the measures to be taken to address its repercussions, and they concluded the following:

First: Emphasizing Lebanon's keenness on the strength of fraternal relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and condemning everything that might prejudice its social security or the safety of the brotherly Saudi people, especially the smuggling of prohibited and narcotic materials to its lands, especially since Lebanon categorically refuses to have its land, sea and air facilities as a road or transit route for such disgraceful and harmful crimes against humanity.

Second: Requesting the discriminatory public prosecutor to complete and follow up the necessary investigations to uncover everything related to the smuggling of narcotic substances in shipments of vegetables and fruits that entered Lebanese territory, and the parties behind their export to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in accordance with the laws and regulations in force, the most severe penalties are imposed on the perpetrators, planners, implementers and negligence, provided that Saudi officials are informed of their results as soon as possible.

Third: Requesting the military and security forces, customs and the concerned departments to be strict and not be lenient at all in the procedures aimed at preventing smuggling of all kinds from the Lebanese borders and to any destination, especially shipments sent to the Gulf states, and to ensure that they are free of any prohibited goods.

Fourth: Requesting the Lebanese exporters to adhere to the rules of foreign trade based on the credibility of the exported goods in terms of their origin, type and quantities in addition to the information related to them and to scrutinize the products that are exported in order to preserve Lebanon's reputation on the one hand and on the other hand to keep their agricultural and industrial products clean and free of any punitive materials. According to the laws in force.

Fifth: Requesting the Minister of Finance to follow up the implementation of Decree No. 6748 of 30/07/2020 related to the mandatory system for inspecting and controlling containers, goods and vehicles at Lebanese border facilities, especially launching a public tender for the establishment of this system under all customs conditions after the necessary conditions books have been prepared.

Sixth: Assigning the Minister of Interior and Municipalities to communicate and coordinate with the relevant authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to follow up research into the procedures to uncover the perpetrators and prevent the recurrence of such condemned practices.

Seventh: Instructing the Ministers of Finance, Economy, Trade, Industry and Agriculture to review the mechanisms and procedures that are followed in the foreign trade process and to propose the necessary amendments to the legal texts currently in force to ensure the good and safety of Lebanese exports, in coordination with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.

Eighth: Instructing the Minister of Finance to prepare a report detailing the needs, requirements, and equipment necessary to improve the performance and readiness of the General Directorate of Customs.

Finally: Wishing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reconsider the decision to prevent the entry of Lebanese agricultural products into Saudi Arabia or to cross its lands. The meeting stressed that Lebanon was and will remain a brother who is keen on the safety of its Arab brothers”.

Source: National News Agency