Now a new government is in place the Lebanese have many matters that they want prioritized, such as the supply of electricity and water, the improvement in the quality of health care and educational services, the building of a public transport system, and raising the employment level. However, the main priority of citizens is fighting corruption, since bribery has become a mandatory means to complete any transaction. The Illicit Wealth Law is a key component of the anti-corruption plan, but in fact, the present law protects the corruption and prevents the prosecution of corrupt officials.
The Old Law
Issued on April 18, 1953, legislative decree No. 38 (the Illicit Wealth Law) defines funds acquired by illicit means as funds acquired by an employee, a provider of public services, or their relatives or partners through bribery, use of influence, exploitation of their job or any other illegal means.
Article 4 of the Illicit Wealth Law stipulates that a three-judge committee must be formed to investigate the cases (At that time, Georges Syoufi, the president of Beirut’s Cassation Court was the head of the committee, Farid El-Dahdah, the president of the Appeal Court of North Lebanon, and Shawkat El Manla, the president of the Appeal Court of Mount Lebanon were the members). The old Illicit Wealth Law allows the public prosecutor and affected people to file an “illicit wealth” complaint with the committee. If the committee finds the complaint serious enough, it will request the alleged offender provides evidence of their wealth’s legitimacy. The committee’s decisions are irrevocable.
Another law concerning the submission of statements of wealth by employees and providers of public services was issued on April 14, 1954. According to this law, the statement should be submitted within eight days of employment. As for the civil servants, they should submit the statement within two months of the date of issuance of law. This law also specifies the authorities that will receive the statements and keep them confidential. However, in case of suspicion and fraud, the judicial committee is entitled to scrutinize the statements.
The New Law
A new law was issued on December 27, 1999 (Law No. 154). It abrogated the two ineffective previous laws and adopted more detailed articles concerning the same content. It also determines the receivers of the statements. For instance, the president, the speaker of Parliament, the prime minister, the ministers, and MPs should submit statements of their personal wealth to the president of the Constitutional Council within three months of their appointment and three months after the end of their terms. However, by virtue of the previous law, they had to submit their statements to the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers. One of the reasons behind the abrogation of the previous law is that it did not provide details about the statements.
What is curious about the new law is the text of articles 10 and 15.
Article 10 stipulates that “every affected person shall file a written complaint signed by him/her with the public prosecution or directly with the first investigating of Beirut. The complainant shall submit a bank guarantee of LBP 25 million.”
Article 15 stipulates that “if it is decided to stop the prosecution of defendant, the competent authority shall, by an enforceable decision, sentence the bad-faith complainant to a fine of at least LBP 200 million and to an imprisonment of between three months and one year. It shall also force the complainant to compensate for the damages caused by the complaint.”
This addition disrupted the new law and made it inapplicable as it imposes restrictions and constraints on filing a complaint against the persons who unjustly enrich themselves.
Today, 18 years after the issuance of the law, no illicit wealth lawsuit has been raised against any government official, minister, or MP, although many of their enrichment aspects are mostly unjust. But who dares to lodge a complaint? The provisions of the law that have been implemented to date stipulate that in case the members of the municipal councils do not submit the required statements, they are considered resigned from their positions. This procedure occurred based upon a notification.
If the eradication of the corruption scourge is serious, amending the law, eliminating the obstacles and restrictions, encouraging Lebanese people and rewarding them in case of valid complaint are must be the bedrock of any anti-corruption plan.