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In light of the strong ties between the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) and the US Treasury, Jesse Baker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Asia and the Middle East in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, undertook a significant visit to Beirut. Following a two-hour meeting with BDL’s Acting Governor Wassim Mansouri, Baker was satisfied with the joint efforts between BDL, the Lebanese banking sector, and the financial and cash markets in handling the issue of money laundering and terrorism financing.

The main purpose of Baker’s official’s visit was to review the measures in place to thwart the financing of Hamas. In this context, Mansouri underscored that funding through legitimate channels, — banks and authorized money changers—cannot possibly happen. He emphasized that banks, in particular, strictly adhere to international laws and comply with both international and US sanctions. Any violation of these regulations would entail substantial repercussions on the bank, and would jeopardize its ties with correspondent banks, as well as its standing.

Furthermore, any financial transfers to Gaza in particular, and Palestine in general, face two significant barriers: firstly, potential partakers actively avoid such transactions, and secondly, the legitimate transfer of funds to Gaza is impeded by the lack of a banking and exchange infrastructure in that region.

Mansouri clarified to the American official that direct cash smuggling operations from Lebanon to Hamas are unlikely to occur. This is due to the absence of direct geographical borders between Lebanon and the areas controlled by Hamas, unlike the situation between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, and Jordan and the West Bank.

This visit by the US Treasury official to Lebanon comes in the wake of a report by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the institution responsible for assessing countries’ cooperation in fighting money laundering and terrorism financing. This report upgraded the evaluation of Lebanon’s cooperation, including that of BDL and Lebanese banks in such efforts, ensuring that Lebanon remains clear of any potential blacklisting.

However, the core issue stems from the institution’s negative assessment of the Lebanese judiciary’s handling of money laundering and terrorism financing. Particularly troubling to FATF is the judiciary’s failure to take decisive action against unauthorized armed groups, which is a main reason for keeping Lebanon under international scrutiny, especially from the United States. This, in turn, leaves Lebanon vulnerable to potential punitive measures at any given time.