The European Union is about to open a full investigation into widespread embezzlement and corruption of its own aid money distributed in Lebanon since 2005, Inside Arabia can reveal.
The EU’s own anti-fraud department in Brussels has received an incendiary letter sent to it from a leading Member of the European Parliament (MEP) calling for an inquiry into EU cash ploughed into waste management projects in Lebanon. An investigation which spanned over a year exposed a “corruption market” which has diverted most of the cash into the hands of political groups. Perhaps worse, the legacy of EU corruption in Lebanon is that it is so out of control now that it is actually killing people: these so-called environmentally friendly operations are so badly run that they are actually poisoning the groundwater in many parts of the country, a factor experts have linked to increased cancer rates, the investigation claims.
The MEP’s letter, seen by Inside Arabia, calls for the EU to fully investigate the allegations made in an article published in May and is unprecedented.
The MEP’s letter, seen by Inside Arabia, calls for the EU to fully investigate the allegations made in an article published in May and is unprecedented. It may well result in the EU demanding as much as 30 million euros to be repaid to Brussels and even involve criminal prosecutions. Such an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office “OLAF” could even extend to the hundreds of millions of euros handed over to the Lebanese government in recent years for its refugee program which assists over a million Syrian refugees.
Rock Star Lifestyles
The waste management projects now under the spotlight, the crowd-funded report asserts, are being run on a fraction of their original costs as most of the money is diverted through an elaborate scam which involves fake companies producing bogus material in a “get-rich” scheme to which the EU’s own delegation has closed its eyes for well over a decade.
Consequently, the sorting and composting plants are entirely ineffective and, according to a bevy of environmental experts and the country’s deputy prime minister, are responsible for the rise in the number of cancer cases highlighted recently by Foreign Policy magazine which also joined the chorus, citing the recent death of a beauty queen which shocked the nation, in an article entitled “Greetings from Trash Mountain,” a reference to Lebanon’s garbage crisis.
The letter itself, sent by Ana Gomes MEP, pulls no punches and appeals directly to the OLAF chief, Ville Itala, and the EU’s diva of the international diplomacy circuit Federica Mogherini to save the “EU’s credibility.” The letter states:
Besides grossly misusing European taxpayers’ money, this case calls for an urgent and deep investigation from the EU bodies, in particular OLAF, so that those found responsible, both in the EU and in Lebanon, will be brought to justice and that the EU funds to Lebanon will be immediately put under stringent control.
“The conclusions of the investigation put at stake the EU’s credibility as well as the efficiency and integrity of the EU’s internal controls, which may have been infiltrated by . . . criminal networks. Besides grossly misusing European taxpayers’ money, this case calls for an urgent and deep investigation from the EU bodies, in particular OLAF, so that those found responsible, both in the EU and in Lebanon, will be brought to justice and that the EU funds to Lebanon will be immediately put under stringent control.”
Gomes, a respected veteran diplomat and influential Portuguese MEP who sits on the prestigious European Parliament foreign affairs committee, clearly wants EU officials investigated as well, which puts a number of EU delegation chiefs over the last 15 years in Beirut under the spotlight, including present Danish official, Christina Lassen, in charge of the EU delegation in Lebanon, which the article criticizes for covering up the graft while enjoying a “rock star lifestyle” living in a multi-million dollar djinn palace in downtown Beirut.
Head in the Sand
Indeed, since the investigation was published, the behavior of Lassen has been a little peculiar. Rather than even attempt to dismiss any of the accusations of the piece, which asserts that the EU is “trapped” in a racket where it is forced into handing money over to political/terror groups which hold it hostage to their demands, the woman at the center of the scandal merely spent her time telephoning leading figures in Lebanon—such as anti-corruption activist Paula Yacoubian MP—pleading with them to delete their retweets of the invective article which accuses her of overseeing a plan which started in 2017 to cover up the embezzlement through jetting in a French official, who paid a Brussels-based consulting firm a cool million dollars in fees to carry out a damage control exercise. Lassen’s own image seemed to be the main focus of her concern.
Furthermore, it is believed that the conclusion of that study is that the embezzlement is too well organized now, and it is too late for the EU delegation chief to do anything about it without falling on her own sword.
Indeed, even more incriminating is Lassen’s email to the International Policy Digest, seen by Inside Arabia. There, she points out a minor error in the article, but then concedes that corruption may well be the heart of the problem with the plants and that OLAF may well be required to investigate—an extraordinary admission in itself of the scale of the embezzlement, given that she is accused in the journalist’s article of covering up the racket and failing to cooperate with the journalist’s email requests for over a year.
Friends of Lassen suggested to her that a wise policy would be to close all 10 operating plants and do a thorough toxicology study of the compost they are producing, perform local groundwater tests, and conduct an independent assessment of the companies brought in to build and run the plants. She refused. Rather, she continued to bury her head in the sand and ignore the hemorrhaging of European taxpayers’ cash, choosing instead to show support to the then-government minister herself whose ministry is accused of the gargantuan level of embezzlement and giving speeches about how great the EU’s work is in the field of waste management—a joke, given that the EU’s reputation in this field, even before the publication of the journalist’s investigation, was at an all time low.
After 13 years of incompetence, egregious corruption, and dubious haste to build the plants, Lebanon is literally teaming with people who speak ill of the EU’s handiwork in this area.
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This is Part I of a two-part article regarding this unprecedented investigation.