Gangs rip off Lebanon's phone system to the tune of $250 million

Published June 21st, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Gangs using sophisticated equipment are tapping into Lebanon's telecommunications network, causing losses of $250 million to the state coffers, according to Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. 

 

His disclosures to parliament late Tuesday, June 19, raised a storm, with members calling for action Wednesday against the guilty parties, which Hariri did not name but were alleged to have powerful political connections. 

 

Posts and Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Kordahi admitted that "gangs" were using satellite dishes and portable telephone equipment to link up to the fixed phone network. He said that the authorities were harrying those responsible but as one such activity was nipped out 10 more sprang up. 

 

Kordahi denied that any ministers or member of parliament was involved. However Walid Jumblatt, whose Druze Progressive Socialist Party has three ministers in the government, charged that "pirating of international communications has the protection of influential politicians and groups." 

 

Mohammad Fneish, a deputy for the radical Shiite Hezbollah, denied rumors that his Shiite fundamentalist group was concerned. 

 

Also Tuesday Hariri said illegal wiretappers were victimizing him and other prominent people. “My telephone is tapped and those of others as well," he told parliament. But we are not powerless. From tomorrow, the ministry of justice will take steps." Hariri has on a number of occasions raised the matter of illegal wiretaps being carried out by certain state agencies. 

 

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri claimed in November that the telephones of numerous government ministers, MPs, diplomats and journalists were being tapped. He promised to take steps to ensure that a 1998 law on wiretaps be scrupulously enforced. This law limits phone-tapping to specific, court-approved cases. ― (AFP, Beirut) 

 

© Agence France Presse 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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