Last updated: 15 December, 2011

Lebanon’s private banks cover UN Hariri court funds

Lebanon’s private banks on Thursday announced they would reimburse the government for its share of funding to a controversial UN-backed court probing the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

“The board of directors of the Association of Banks in Lebanon decided unanimously… to cover the country’s financial commitments to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” read a statement released by the group, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Lebanon’s $32 million (24 million euro) share of funding for the Netherlands-based tribunal had sparked a political debate that threatened to bring down the Hezbollah-dominated government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Last month, Mikati averted an all-out crisis by announcing the money had been drawn from the High Relief Council, a special fund that is part of his office budget, a move that did not need cabinet approval.

But the premier’s move did not spell the end of a feud over the court, said Joseph Torbey, head of the banking association.

“Funding the court has been and will continue to be a key source of political controversy,” he told AFP.

He added that by covering this year’s dues, the banking association had closed debate on the issue.

“The damage caused by this issue was harmful and was a constant source of tension,” he said. “Closing this chapter is good for the country’s economy.”

Syrian- and Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah had outright refused to agree to fund the court, which has charged four Hezbollah members in the 2005 Hariri assassination. No arrests have been made.