| 11 November, 2016

Illegal internet probe serious and ongoing: Fadlallah

Young Lebanese surf the net at an Internet cafe in Beirut in this picture taken September 7, 2005.

Young Lebanese surf the net at an Internet cafe in Beirut in this picture taken September 7, 2005.

REUTERS/ Reuters Photographer

11 November 2016

BEIRUT: The media and telecommunications parliamentary committee met Thursday to discuss the ongoing illegal internet scandal, with some members leaving early due a purported lack of seriousness in the session. MP Ziad Aswad reportedly left the session early citing slow progress and lack of seriousness in the judicial investigation. Aswad was unavailable for comment.

The committee, which is headed by MP Hasan Fadlallah, refuted claims that the matter wasn’t given due importance.

“Perhaps the public is waiting for a final result, but there is a judicial process. We will make all efforts to resolve this issue, and we emphasize our serious intention to follow up on it,” Fadlallah said after the meeting.

Fadlallah, caretaker Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb and State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud held a joint news conference following the committee meeting.

Fadlallah rejected claims that suspects in the scandal have been protected by the political establishment.

“Some MPs have asked if there is a political cover-up for those involved in the illegal internet scandal. We will not accept the protection of those involved,” Fadlallah said.

Harb stressed his commitment to resolving the issue, calling on the new telecoms minister to do the same. “People need to keep their trust in the judicial system,” Harb said.

Hammoud told reporters the investigation was ongoing and a trial would begin next week. Hammoud also said Army Intelligence investigations did not uncover any tangible proof that the illegal internet hubs were being used for spying.

“Multiple suspects have been interrogated and the case is ongoing,” Hammoud said.

The slow pace of the case is due to suspects’ exercising their full rights, such as presenting pre-trial motions, Hammoud explained.

Last March, unlicensed internet networks were found in north Lebanon in the Dinnieh, Ouyoun al-Siman, Faqra and Zaarour areas of Mount Lebanon.

The networks were believed to be used by Israel to spy on Lebanon’s online traffic, Harb said at the time. The networks were shut down after their discovery.

Harb has close ties with the CEO of state-run telecoms company OGERO, Abdel-Menhem Youssef, who is currently under investigation as a suspect in the case and for other corruption allegations.

Youssef has been involved in a controversy involving “E1” services that enable routing multiple calls through a single line simultaneously. This allows calls from an extension within a company to be routed via the internet rather than via a traditional call, regardless of location of the two callers.

Harb said that he has been asked to investigate Youssef even though, “I am not convinced of the decision to pursue [this line of inquiry].”

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