Friday, June 03, 2011

Lebanon - The strange crisis over telecommunications ministry building

[National News Agency Lebanon] It is legally forbidden for any equipment to be taken out of Telecommunications Ministry unless cabinet decreed it, stated Future Bloc MP Hady Hobeish, during an interview on New TV Sunday, in defense of Ogero CEO Abed Mhenim Youssef and Internal Security Forces Director General Ashraf Rifi.

On 26 May 2011, caretaker Minister of Telecommunications, Charbel Nahhas, along with armed bodyguards and a TV crew from the Free Patriotic Movement's OTV attempted to enter the second floor of the state-run telecommunications operator Ogero building in Adliyeh-Beirut to dismantle GSM telecommunication equipment donated by the Chinese government. Rifi ordered the Information Branch of the ISF to protect the equipment based on a request by the management of Ogero who, by decree from the Lebanese Council of Ministers, is responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment. The caretaker minister and his entourage left the building without gaining access to the equipment. Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud resigned on the same day because of continuous challenges to his authority by caretaker minister Nahhas who had been withholding the release of sensitive telecommunication data needed to investigate criminal activities in Lebanon, particularly the kidnapping of seven Estonian tourists. Rifi's actions were considered by 8 March coalition and the Free Patriotic Movement as a military coup, while they were lauded by March 14 coalition for upholding the rule of law and preserving state institutions.

'Youssef did not stop Minister Nahhas from entering the floor, and an ISF unit carried out its duty in protecting said floor which was under authority of Ogero,' explained Hobeish, noting that Nahhas has no authority over Ogero, since it was an independent institution both financially and managerially. He also confirmed that actions of Rifi were legally valid.

The MP revealed that, 'There are 3 agencies that can monitor calls in Lebanon: Army intelligence, Information branch of ISF, and Hezbollah. He concluded that the cabinet did not decree the launching of a third telecom network.

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