Lebanon arrests two suspects over Saudi drug smuggling
BEIRUT – Lebanon has detained two brothers suspected of being involved in the foiled attempt to smuggle amphetamines into Saudi Arabia that prompted the Saudi authorities to impose a ban on importing Lebanese produce, the caretaker government said on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia announced the ban on April 23 after the discovery of 5.3 million Captagon pills, a type of amphetamine, hidden in pomegranate shipments from Lebanon.
The sanction compounds Lebanon’s severe economic problems.
Interior minister in the caretaker government Mohamed Fahmy was speaking in an interview with Lebanon’s MTV broadcaster during a tour of the border area from the north to the Bekaa valley where there is rampant cross-border smuggling with Syria, of goods ranging from drugs to fuel and subsidised food.
“We have uncovered those complicit and a follow-up of the case is ongoing,” Fahmy said.
He added that 2,000 pomegranates out of about 80,000 in the shipment were filled with Captagon pills.
“It is very difficult to find them without scanners,” he said.
Lebanon was in contact with Saudi authorities on the course of the investigations.
Fahmy said there was no evidence that Lebanon’s powerful Shia Hezbollah group was in involved in the case. Hezbollah has long been accused by the Washington and its regional foes of links to a multi-million global drug trade in Lebanon and Syria to finance its military operations.
The pro-Iranian militia controls the border area and its fighters move freely across the frontier to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Syria is believed to be one of the biggest producers and exporters of counterfeit Captagon, a popular drug among affluent youths in the Middle East, particularly the Gulf.
While Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of Lebanon, the kingdom has also been locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Tension between the two regional powerhouses has often spilled into a deadlock in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s Farmers Union called on the kingdom to repeal its decision. It said the mistake of one person or a criminal gang should not be a reason to punish the Lebanese people.