Terrorism

Lawsuit filed against Hizbullah for tax evasion

By Junaid Salman in Beirut

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Hizbullah supporters watch as Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech on a screen in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on January 12th. [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

A Lebanese lawyer has filed a complaint against Hizbullah, in which he accuses the Iran-backed militia of tax and customs evasion and money laundering.

In his June 22nd lawsuit, filed with the Financial Public Prosecution office, Majd Boutros Harb noted that tax evasion in Lebanon amounts to at least $5 billion a year, and that Hizbullah is among those violating the tax laws.

This has caused enormous losses to the national treasury, the complaint states, demanding that legal action be taken against Hizbullah that will force it to pay requisite fines and unpaid back taxes.

In the complaint Harb cites the state's "inability to establish sovereignty over all Lebanese territory due to the presence of illegal weapons".

He also alludes to the "rampant corruption that has led to the bankruptcy of the Lebanese state after its debts exceeded $80 billion".

The complaint notes that Hizbullah is violating Section II of the Income Tax Law pertaining to the tax on salaries and wages by not declaring its employees and fighters who are paid wages.

Half the party's budget is spent on employee salaries and compensation, it says.

Evidence-based complaint

Harb told Al-Mashareq his complaint "is based on evidence", and pointed to specific speeches by Hassan Nasrallah "in which he stated that his party's elements are paid salaries and that his party receives grants and aid from Iran".

In a 2012 speech, for example, Nasrallah admitted to receiving "moral, political and financial support in every possible and available form from the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1982".

Hizbullah had previously remained silent about this support, Nasrallah said at the time, "so as not to embarrass the Islamic republic".

Under the law, Harb said, political organisations must pay taxes on their staff members and employees.

As for the timing of the lawsuit, he said, given the economic circumstances Lebanon is currently facing, "we sought to bring in revenue to the state through the collection of taxes and dues".

The complaint points out that Hizbullah fighters are receiving salaries, and that the law requires that taxes be paid on these wages, Harb said.

Accountability is sought

"The complaint is intended to draw the attention of the judicial authorities to the existence of criminal offense, after which judicial bodies must act to investigate and take a decision on it," legal expert Salam Abdul Samad told Al-Mashareq.

He stressed the "necessity of always resorting to the judiciary to ascertain the truth of matters, verify that abuses are being committed and hold those responsible accountable".

The constitution stipulates that "everyone is equal before the law, and therefore no member of the political class is above accountability or exempt from questioning", he said.

It is the responsibility of anyone who witnesses a violation of the law to refer it to the judiciary, Abdul Samad said.

The complaint relates to Lebanon's sovereignty over its territory and control over its border crossings, journalist Asaad Bishara told Al-Mashareq.

It brings to the fore the impact of the failure to control the borders and tax evasion on the Lebanese economy, he said.

As a result of these shortcomings, he noted, "the borders have become dotted with illegal crossings used for the smuggling of goods at the state treasury's expense".

"This complaint may not take the judicial course required because of [political] pressure, but it spotlights the existence of a law violation problem and underscores [the need to seek] recourse with the judiciary," he said.

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