MTV Lebanon CEO tangled in the wires of illegal internet scandal

Published September 22nd, 2016 - 07:00 GMT
A screenshot of MTV Lebanon CEO Michel Gabriel Murr during a speech. (Youtube)
A screenshot of MTV Lebanon CEO Michel Gabriel Murr during a speech. (Youtube)

Lebanon’s financial prosecutor, Ali Ibrahim, charged MTV Lebanon CEO Michel Gabriel Murr with embezzlement Tuesday, a judicial source told The Daily Star.

The major local TV network chief was charged for his alleged involvement in running an illegal, unlicensed network in Zaarour in the highlands of the Metn district.

Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb announced the issue of unlicensed internet networks operating across Lebanon back in March, which he claimed Israel was using to spy on the country. Investigations have so far detected such networks in Oyoune al-Siman, the northern Dinnieh district, and the Faqra and Zaarour areas of Mount Lebanon.

In other news Tuesday, the parliamentary committee investigating the unlicensed internet issue said Lebanon’s military judiciary has taken over the case and will investigate Ogero head Abdel-Moneim Youssef as a suspect.

“The judiciary has taken the initial steps and a request has been put forward to pursue Abdel-Moneim Youssef to prove his role in squandering public money,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters Tuesday. His comments came after a meeting of Parliament’s Telecommunications Committee meeting, attended by Harb and the committee’s head MP Hasan Fadlallah.

Youssef, the head of the state-run telecoms company, who Abu Faour’s Progressive Socialist Party and other groups have long called corrupt, has been accused of being involved in the case. Youssef did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fadlallah echoed Abu Faour’s remarks about pursuing Youssef during a joint news conference with Harb which the health minister did not attend. “The mobile operators owned by the state were buying internet from private companies at higher rates than those of the government,” Fadlallah said, referring to the two mobile phone companies, touch and Alfa. The implication was that both the state and consumers were faced with higher data costs than necessary. “We are doing what we promised and the public must trust us,” he added.

Harb explained that a lot of progress has been made in the investigation and said he was adamant that the case wouldn’t be closed before guilty individuals were brought to justice.

“It is not true that all ministers in the Cabinet are evading their responsibilities in the absence of a head of state,” Harb said.

Fadlallah explained that the next date for discussions would be set once the state prosecutor returns from a trip abroad.

The Zaarour network, which Murr was allegedly connected to, was discovered and shut earlier this year, along with the three others that were detected in nearby areas. The judicial source said that the case has been referred to a judge in the Metn, adding that he could face up to three years in prison if found guilty.

Murr gave his testimony to Ibrahim last month regarding the case. When reached by The Daily Star, MTV refused to comment on the matter as the case is now in the hands of the judiciary. However, the television station addressed the development in an opening comment on the evening news bulletin.

“Some people were aggravated when we battled their corruption, so they fabricated stories. ... MTV will continue, no matter how many people bark. Our battle is long with the scandal,” the news anchor stated.

Earlier this year, Judge Saqr Saqr charged three captains and four chief warrant officers in the Internal Security Forces at the request of State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud over “negligence in doing the job and the failure to issue fines against the owners of illegal internet setups in Zaarour.” Saqr referred the case to Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida.

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