Beirut: Although Abdul Moneim Yousuf, director-general of telecom company Ogero, was under a judicial order not to leave the country, he may have fled Lebanon, which thickened the plot of this latest scandal.
Fresh charges were pressed on Wednesday against Toufic Hiso and Robert Saab over their alleged connections to unlicensed internet distribution in Lebanon.
Based on the results of an extensive investigation, Judge Fady Oneisi issued arrest warrants for Hiso and Saab, and ordered Internal Security Forces to detain both suspects after it was revealed that servers belonging to the parastatal organisation were discovered hidden in water tanks on the roof a building that houses Hiso’s internet company, THGV, in Beirut.
Six additional suspects were charged by the Financial Prosecutor, Judge Ali Ebrahim, over their alleged involvement in illegal internet networks that deprived the state of revenues.
Earlier, a parliamentary media committee unveiled what it described as a “mafia” that are taking advantage of internet services by installing internet stations that are not subject to any controls by the state, which earns between $1.2 billion and 1.5 billion each year through the Ministry of Telecommunications monopoly. Lebanese Internet services rank among the slowest and most expensive in the world.
In March 2016, Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb shocked the nation as he revealed that a number of unlicensed internet providers were operating across Lebanon with ties to Israel that, it was further disclosed, occurred with the express knowledge of Yousuf.
Youssef apparently knew that the owners of these illegal stations bypassed the state network and purchased international Internet bandwidth at nominal costs from Turkey and Cyprus which, in turn, they sold to subscribers at reduced prices.
For his part, Harb exposed four illegal internet stations in the mountainous regions of Al Dinniyyah, Ayun Al Siman, Faqra and Zaarur, and promised that every effort would be made to discover the truth. At the time, Yousuf pledged to cooperate and was expected to appear before a judge to explain what he knew and whether his associate, Hiso, operated with or without his knowledge. When he did not appear in court, reports surfaced that Youssef had allegedly fled the country.
Ogero formally denied rumours that the director-general breached a judicial order. In a communique, it affirmed that the official was “on vacation and has taken a sick leave outside the country”.
It further confirmed that Harb was aware of the absence and has granted his approval as per the prescribed laws although it was unclear whether a cabinet member’s decision superseded a judge’s orders.
Yousuf, who was close to March 14 leaders including former prime minister Fuad Siniora, may yet appear in court on May 11, though it was unclear whether he would do so.