BEIRUT: Lebanon is investigating alleged embezzlement of over $300,000 at its Ukraine embassy, a judicial official told AFP on Monday, as sources say cash-strapped Beirut is trying to cut costs at diplomatic missions.
The probe was launched after financial irregularities came to light in September, the official said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Preliminary investigations showed “an estimated $318,000” had been embezzled from funds including for consular services such as “passport renewal fees”, the official said.
The foreign ministry had apparently failed to notice or investigate the missing funds, according to the official.
A diplomatic source confirmed to AFP that “judicial investigations are underway into a financial matter at the Ukrainian embassy.”
Ambassador Ali Daher - who had been recalled to Beirut pending the completion of the probe - and one of his assistants have been questioned, the judicial official said.
Citing initial investigations, the official said the money had been transferred to a Ukrainian bank account belonging to the embassy employee who claimed the funds had been sent to Beirut.
The assistant has returned to Lebanon but since disappeared, the official said, adding that Lebanon’s top prosecutor has issued a travel ban against the assistant and his Ukrainian wife.
Rent paid for the ambassador’s residence in Kyiv was also under investigation, the official said.
Work has largely been suspended at the Lebanese diplomatic mission in Ukraine following the war last year, the diplomatic source said also on condition on anonymity.
Since late 2019, Lebanon has faced a devastating economic crisis that has plunged more than 80 per cent of the population into poverty, according to the United Nations.
The local currency has lost much of its value and public sector employees, whose salaries remained largely stagnant, have had their purchasing power slashed.
Since last year, the foreign ministry has proposed suspending work in 17 foreign missions to help rein in expenditure, according to the diplomatic source, with Kyiv being one of them according to media reports.
While the government has not made a decision on the matter, the source said expenses and employee numbers at missions abroad were already being reduced to help cut costs.