The war declared at the beginning of the current month by the Attorney General at the Court of Appeal of Mount Lebanon, Ghada Aoun, on banking establishments, following complaints filed for “wastage of public funds, illicit enrichment, abuse of confidence and fraud with regard to depositors”, does not seem to be about to stop. In addition to the two-day bank strike decreed last week in response to the decision taken by the judge to freeze the movable and immovable property of six establishments and those of their managers, whom she also prohibited from leaving the territory, the Association of Banks of Lebanon (ABL) took legal action. Through its lawyer Akram Azouri, the organization indeed presented on March 16 a request for recusal against the prosecutor, before the Court of Appeal of Mount Lebanon, chaired by Rima Chbaro, as well as an action in liability of the State against the gross negligence of Judge Aoun, on March 22, before the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation. Alongside the ABL, Bank of Beirut and Bank Audi also filed a complaint, for which Me Azouri is the lawyer and which are among the six establishments targeted by the restrictive measures (the 4 others are BLOM Bank, SGBL, BankMed and Credit bank). It should be noted that the CEO of SGBL, Antoun Sehnaoui, had for his part filed a challenge on March 3 against Ms. Aoun.
Joined by L’Orient-Le Jour, Me Azouri explains the interest for the ABL and the banks to combine the two appeals. “The challenge presented against Judge Aoun is intended to remove her from the case, so as to prevent her from continuing her prosecution. The State’s action for gross negligence by the magistrate has the effect of annulling the decisions she has already taken. If the case is successful, the measures to freeze the assets of banks and bankers and the travel ban imposed on them will therefore be invalidated. »
The procedure applied in each of the two requests is also different. “In the case of a request for recusal, the relinquishment only takes effect when the judge concerned is notified,” says Akram Azouri, stressing that in this case, “the prosecutor refuses to be notified”. “As for the State’s liability action, simply filing it with the registry immediately removes the judge’s control,” he continues. “Article 751 (last paragraph) of the Code of Civil Procedure provides that when such an action is presented, a magistrate can no longer undertake an act related to the plaintiff”, he specifies.
Prejudice and excess of power
In his challenge to the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal, the lawyer invokes “prejudice” as a ground for complaint. “When last April the first investigating judge of the Bekaa, Amani Salamé, ordered the precautionary seizure of the assets of 14 banks, Judge Aoun congratulated her,” he recalls. The prosecutor at the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal then declared in a tweet that she would like to “join the Club of Judges”, of which Ms. Salamé is one of the notorious figures. “Today, eleven months later, she makes a similar judgment,” notes the lawyer.
Before the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation, the ABL and the two complainant banks accuse Ms. Aoun of excess of power. “A public prosecutor cannot judge. It cannot therefore decree measures on people and property, ”insists Akram Azouri. A judicial source interviewed by the OLJ affirms in the same spirit that it is up to the investigating judge, to whom a prosecutor will have referred a suspicious file, to take restrictive measures, such as an arrest, a judicial supervision or a travel ban… As for the precautionary seizure, it is the execution judge, and not the prosecutor, who has the prerogative to order it, adds the source.
In the same vein, the lawyer stigmatizes the decision taken last week by Ghada Aoun to prohibit the six banks concerned from exporting currencies. We know that the Attorney General at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidate, however, canceled this decision on Monday, in particular “so as not to harm the national economy”. A reason that makes a member of an organization for the defense of depositors smile bitterly, for whom “the economic abyss is already very deep”. In contrast, Akram Azouri praises Mr. Oueidate’s decision. Three days before the procedure of the prosecutor of cassation, the lawyer had sent him an open letter on behalf of the ABL to urge him to order “the stop of the execution of the decision (of judge Aoun) to request the Customs Department to prohibit the transfer of monetary funds to the six banks”. For the ABL, such a ban would have contributed to isolating Lebanese banks from their foreign correspondents, and more generally to “undermining what remains of confidence in the banking sector”.
The lawyer deplores the wide publicity surrounding Ghada Aoun’s decisions in the local and international media. In this regard, he warns against a disruption of relations between local banks and foreign banks. “Western banks would not like to continue to deal with banks hit by serious measures”, he believes, noting that “they have within them prudential and ethical committees whose task is to check whether it is possible or not to continue dealing with suspicious banks”.
“Since Judge Aoun began taking action against banks and their boards, bank officials have been in constant contact with international correspondent banks to explain to them that the prosecutor acted outside her jurisdiction and that her decisions are doomed to annulment”, concludes Azouri.
The war declared at the beginning of the current month by the Attorney General at the Court of Appeal of Mount Lebanon, Ghada Aoun, on banking establishments, following complaints filed for “wastage of public funds, illicit enrichment, abuse of confidence and fraud with regard to depositors”, does not seem to be about to stop. Besides the two days of…