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Lebanon: Government Undertakes National Anticorruption Campaign

(June 24, 2019) On March 13, 2019, in a response to media and social network reports of ongoing major corruption investigations of judges and lawyers, Lebanon’s minister of justice, Albert Sarhan, confirmed to the National News Agency that he is coordinating and keeping abreast of these investigations aimed at rooting out corruption in the judiciary and other relevant institutions. (Minister of Justice: We Will Work to Eradicate Corruption in the Judiciary and Other Relevant Institutions, NEW TV (Mar. 13, 2019) (in Arabic).)

In accordance with a recommendation from the country’s Judicial Inspection Board, Sarhan has decided to suspend three judges and refer their cases to the Judicial Disciplinary Authority. (Youssef Diab, Anticorruption Measures Spark a War Among Lebanon’s Judges, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (Apr. 2, 2019) (in Arabic).) Notably, the corruption investigations are not limited to junior officers—they have primarily been directed at senior officials, who historically have felt entitled to exploit government resources for their personal benefit yet remain protected from accountability by political and sectarian alliances. (Id.)

In a case involving one of the biggest drug dealers in Lebanon, Sarhan has also authorized the prosecution of six judicial clerks suspected of involvement in obtaining a $600,000 bribe to manipulate the dealer’s judicial file by reducing the charges against him and introducing false medical reports, all in an effort to secure his release. (Youssef Diab, “War on Corruption” Reaches Door of Judiciary: Prosecution Seeks Authorization to Go After Doctors and Lawyers, Aims at Revoking Immunities, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (Mar. 11, 2019) (in Arabic).)

National Anticorruption Commission

Transparency International has documented Lebanon’s serious problems with corruption, ranking it 138th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index for 2018. (Samar Kadi, Lebanon’s Uphill Battle Against Corruption, ARAB WEEKLY (Feb. 2, 2019) (in Arabic).) This high level of corruption becomes a great obstacle in receiving the international financial support and investment that would mitigate the country’s high public debt and widespread poverty. (Id.)

In an effort to establish a government entity responsible for holding corrupt officials accountable, the Lebanese Parliament’s Committee of Finance and Budget endorsed legislation on December 19, 2018, to establish a National Anticorruption Commission. The Commission is tasked with executing anticorruption laws enacted by the Parliament and overseeing the application of future anticorruption laws yet to be proposed and ratified. (Finance and Budget Committee Approves Proposed Public-Sector Anticorruption Law, LEBANESE PARLIAMENT (Dec. 19, 2018) (in Arabic).) The Commission has the authority to submit for prosecution any corruption violations committed by public officials, as well as impose travel bans on indicted officials and lift the secrecy of their bank accounts. (Id.)

The Parliamentary consensus on the adoption of the Anticorruption Commission law is rather unprecedented, unlike the usual partisanship exhibited in discussing other bills. (Yousef Diab, Lebanon Accelerating Steps to Establish National Anticorruption Commission, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (Mar. 16, 2019) (in Arabic).) So far, the Parliament has passed three anticorruption laws: the Law on the Right to Access Information (January 19, 2017), Law on Protecting Whistleblowers (September 24, 2018), and Law to Fight Corruption in Oil and Gas Contracts (October 10, 2018).

Whistleblowers Protection Law

Since Lebanon’s ratification on October 10, 2006, of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the Lebanese government has been committed to enacting competent laws to translate its treaty obligation into a set of legislative actions. On September 24, 2018, the Lebanese Parliament approved a draft law aimed at protecting whistleblowers and asserting that the disclosure of corruption malfeasance does not constitute a violation of professional confidentiality. The law covers any person who holds a legislative, judicial, executive, administrative, military, or security position, whether appointed or elected, permanent or temporary, paid or unpaid. (Law No. 83 of 2018 on Protecting Whistleblowers art. 1(e), AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] vol. 45 (10 Oct. 2018) (in Arabic).)

The Law embraces a narrow definition of corruption as the official exploitation of power, excluding private sector corruption (Id. art. 1.).

Equally important, the Law provides for the protection of whistleblowers from actions that would jeopardize their employment, such as disciplinary proceedings, dismissal, suspension, and demotion. It also calls for the prevention of any personal harm, such as threats or retaliatory actions, to whistleblowers and their family members (id. art. 7), and imposes massive fines on persons responsible for inflicting harm on whistleblowers (id. art. 11).

Notably, the new Law establishes a budget authorization for disbursing funds as a reward to individuals for reporting cases of corruption. (Id. art. 13.) It also authorizes the National Anticorruption Commission to grant rewards if the disclosure leads to the recovery of funds or the prevention of financial loss to a government agency. (Id. art. 14.)

Finally, the Law proscribes the Commission or any of its members from disclosing the identity of whistleblowers without their consent, and designates such disclosure as a criminal offense. On the other hand, the Law permits enlisting whistleblowers as witnesses if they provide their explicit consent. (Id. art. 6.)

This article was written by John Al Saddy, Foreign Law Consultant, under the supervision of Foreign Law Specialist George Sadek.