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US court summoned Lebanon's ex-FM Gebran Bassil over kidnapping, torture case Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

US court summoned Lebanon's ex-FM Gebran Bassil over kidnapping, torture case

The couple claim Bassil received a reward from her relatives to use his powers [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 November, 2020

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A Lebanese-American couple is seeking justice through US courts for kidnapping and torture under the alleged direction of Gebran Bassil.
A lawsuit was filed against Lebanon's former foreign minister and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement [FPM] Gebran Bassil, which saw him and other members of his party summoned by a US District Court days before sanctions were announced against him.

A copy of the court document, dated 27 October, was published by Lebanese media on Sunday.

The case relates to the 2019 kidnapping of a US-based Lebanese woman and her husband, who returned to Lebanon to claim a multimillion-dollar inheritance following the passing of her father in 2017. 

Lara Mansour Samaha claims her Lebanon-based relatives prevented her from acquiring the fortune left behind by her father.

The matter evolved into a legal dispute that saw Samaha file a lawsuit both in Lebanon and in the Southern District of Florida, where she resides.

"They were told that they should come back to the country and that they wanted to resolve the lawsuit," her lawyer Attorney Lorne Berkeley told US media at the time.

Samaha and her husband, Ellie Samaha, travelled to Lebanon, where they claim her relatives there had persuaded authorities to charge them with defamation and issue a warrant for their arrest.

Berkeley said that as soon as Lara and Ellie arrived in Lebanon, they were "held hostage" for over a week. They said officials there threatened them to force them to drop their lawsuits. 

"They tried to kill us," Lara told local US media at the time. "They put a knife on us." 

Her husband added: "We were underground. We couldn’t see any light." 

Following intervention from the US embassy in Lebanon and the State Department, the Lebanese authorities freed them a week later, allowing them to return to the US.

"They forced me to sign everything, to dismiss everything," Lara said.

A US Court said that Lara's dismissal of the lawsuit was "the product of duress and coercion".

The couple claim that Bassil allegedly received a reward from her relatives to use his connections within the security and judicial departments to order the kidnapping and torture until the lawsuit was dropped.

Bassil's office issued statement denying his involvement on 3 November.

"MP Bassil has absolutely nothing to do with it, neither from near nor from afar," the statement said. 

Former Justice Minister and FPM member Salim Jreissati has been accused of allegedly using his connections to organise the kidnapping and torture of the couple. 

Another FPM member, Ziad Mekkana, has been accused of allegedly facilitating the kidnapping, by filing a defamation complaint against the two.

Lebanon's top military prosecutor at the time Peter Germanos has been accused of allegedly transferring Lara and Elie to the detention facilities.

The summon states that the defendants, Bassil along with the cited members of his political party and others, "acted in concert to torture" the couple.

Bassil - the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun - is a hugely controversial figure in Lebanon and the target of protesters' ire during last year's anti-government demonstrations.

He was sanctioned by the US over the weekend for "systematic corruption".

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