The Law No.189 dated 16/10/2020 (here below), published in the Official Gazette No 41 dated 22/10/2020, has amended, replaced made substantial changes to the Law No. 154 dated 27/12/1999 (Law on illicit enrichment) and its amendments in order to strengthen the means of combating corruption and to meet the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention for the fight against corruption (UNCAC) to which Lebanon is a member since 2009 by virtue of the Law No. 33 dated 16/10/2008.
Indeed, illicit enrichment, which is henceforth elevated to the rank of a full-fledged offense and no longer a presumption, has been defined more precisely by this new Law (article 10) and represents a substantial and unjustified increase (both in Lebanon and abroad) in assets held by a person related to the public service in comparison with his declared actual resources. The concerned person, his spouse and minor children are considered as one person.
Several decisive elements have been introduced by this Law, starting with the definition of the offense, the broadening of the categories of persons concerned and the determination of the conditions under which a legal action can be justified. It should be noted in this regard that this new Law is not retroactive, but neither does it provide for prescription.
This Law innovates by targeting all the persons who manage public funds or related to public funds, directly or indirectly, such as public servants, military and judges, councilors, national or local elected officials as well as private persons dealing with the state’s institutions.
Despite the contrary opinion of a number of politicians concerned by this new Law, it appears that the Prime Minister and other members of the government could be judged by the ordinary courts, inasmuch as article 11 of the said Law stipulates that “the illicit enrichment is an ordinary crime relating to personal acts” and therefore could not be classified among acts falling within the exercise of the members of the government’s functions and therefore cannot be most likely judged before the High Court. This exceptional court established by the Constitution (article 70), is competent to judge presidents and ministers. The immunity granted to the parliament members can be lifted through a specific procedure. The President of the Republic shall be also liable to the provisions of this Law, but shall be judged by the High Court.
Anyone who commits the crime of illicit enrichment will be subject to three to seven years of prison and to a fine ranging from thirty to two hundred times the official minimum wage, in
addition to the obligation to return illicit assets to the concerned parties or failing that, to the public treasury. The judgment must be published in two local newspapers.
The judgment must be published in two local newspapers and the funds which were acquired by means of illicit enrichment must be returned to the concerned parties or confiscated for the benefit of the Treasury.
On the other hand, this new Law has broadened the circle of categories of persons providing a public service or working for the benefit of the latter and which are required to submit asset declarations and thus, in order to strengthen transparency and control. In fact, these declarations must be submitted once within two months of assuming the post. In the event that a person fails to submit the said declarations, he shall be automatically considered as resigning from his post and shall not receive any income related to his function. Any disbursement of public accountants in violation of the above, will engage the responsibility of the latter in accordance with the provisions of articles 93 and 173 of the Public Accounting Law. Once registered, the declarations must then be updated every three years, and finally, a last time two months following the person’s departure.
Regarding the submission of these declarations, they must be presented on paper or by any electronic means approved by the Law and must be detailed and include both the assets of the person in Lebanon and abroad (any income generated by the public service, movable and immovable assets, bank accounts, cash deposited in banks and/or in financial institutions, cash kept at home, jewelry and works of art according to determined limits, financial and property interests resulting from complex mechanisms and various structures (Trust, donations, etc.), powers of attorney on third-party accounts), as well as his debts and commitments, and other interests in Lebanon and abroad. However, only the first three categories of public servants shall comply with the said requirement (for now), except those in the administrations that are deemed to be sensitive (Ministry of Finance for example) in which the said requirement is extended to all the concerned employees.
Declarations shall be submitted before the same authorities until the National Anti-Corruption Commission is formed and active. This Commission, just like the public prosecutor, shall also be notified by whistleblowers. The Law also provides for the possibility for the latters to directly take legal actions to this effect.
Finally, this Law also innovates by introducing more flexible prior conditions for taking legal action. In the event that the whistleblower reports a notification to the National Commission, the procedure shall be free and without any deposit condition. However, if the whistleblower files an individual complaint before the competent courts, he shall deposit a bank guarantee amounting to three million Lebanese Pounds (and not 25 million Lebanese Pounds as provided
for by the previous law). The said amount shall be recovered unless there is evidence of abuse of rights. It should be noted in this regard that under the previous law, abusive procedures as well as those that could not succeed for lack of proof were subject to a fine equivalent to at least 200 million Lebanese Pounds and to a prison sentence ranging between three months and one year, as well as to damages and interests which could be claimed by the defendant.
The declarations shall be strictly confidential, and anyone who discloses their contents shall be punishable by detention of one year at most and by a fine which may be increased from five to ten times the official minimum wage or subject to either of these two penalties. Thus, criminal investigations and prosecutions can also be carried out against violators.
In addition, anyone who submits a false declaration shall be punishable by detention of six months to one year and liable to a fine ranging from 10 to 20 times the official minimum wage.