Statement on the Dismissal of Judge Ghada Aoun: A Message at Odds with the State’s Obligation to Combat Corruption

2023-05-17    |   

Statement on the Dismissal of Judge Ghada Aoun: A Message at Odds with the State’s Obligation to Combat Corruption

Statement on the Dismissal of Judge Ghada Aoun:

A Message at Odds with the State’s Obligation to Combat Corruption


On 4 May 2023, a disciplinary decision dismissing Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun was issued. While we have been unable to view the decision and its grounds, the circumstances we are facing and the severity of the punishment all give rise to concerning question marks, particularly the following:


  • Any fair and serious observer will note that Aoun, by virtue of her Public Prosecution position, initiated the prosecution of major financial corruption cases. She was the first to apply the Illicit Enrichment Law, 66 years after its adoption in 1953. She was the first to take measures to apply the 28 October 2022 law on lifting banking secrecy and expose the truth of the funds loaned by the Banque du Liban to several banks and then transferred abroad after 17 October 2019 (these loans totaled USD8.3 billion, i.e. approximately the value of the reserves now remaining in the Banque du Liban). Via her investigations, she put an end to the tainted fuel deal (Sonatrach), which had lasted 15 years under terms unfair to the state. She conducted other investigations into the central bank and some of its officials that revealed hidden ties and dangerous infractions, thereby assisting related domestic and international investigations. And with advocates-general in her department, namely Judge Nazek al-Khatib and Judge Samer Lichaa, she managed to uncover continuous corruption in several state administrations, including the Vehicle Registration Centres, the Mount Lebanon Land Registry, the Directorate General of Oil, and the Ministry of Energy and Water. Hence, irrespective of the infractions that could be imputed to her, she is clearly a prosecutor who achieved what no other Public Prosecution office achieved in terms of combating corruption. Most importantly, she undertook cases from which others turned away.


  • Any serious and fair observer will note that Aoun has been targeted by organized smear campaigns for opening judicial investigations, campaigns waged in defense of figures and officials under serious suspicion. Most of these campaigns elicited no response from the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), whose first mandate is to ensure judicial independence and the proper functioning of the justice system. They came in tandem with government stances, most importantly by the caretaker prime minister’s office, which classified Aoun’s measures as judicial “anarchy” and “excess” and asked the heads of the judicial authorities to take measures to stay her hand.


  • Any fair and serious observer will note, with great concern, the emergence of practices enabling any defendant to indefinitely halt any investigation into him or her, thereby allowing any influential figure to evade all punishment. These practices involve not only inundating judges with usually arbitrary disqualification cases but also – and in particular – filing maljudging cases against them. Under Article 751 of the Code of Civil Procedure, all these cases automatically stay the hands of the judges concerned as soon as they receive notification. The absurdity of these practices peaked when the Full Bench of the Court of Cassation was suspended via a refusal to issue the decree appointing most of its members, which perpetuated the inability of the judges challenged before it to conduct their work. This, combined with the failure of the legislative and executive authorities to find a solution, perpetuated the obstruction of justice in the most important cases, including the port blast case and the banking cases. Consequently, most judges committed to their jobs were forced to adopt interpretations or approaches that allow them to retain their powers, as Judicial Council Investigator Tarek Bitar did in his 23 January 2023 decision. This is the main complaint directed at Aoun, who continued many of her investigations on the basis that Article 751 is inapplicable while the Full Bench of the Court of Cassation is suspended.


Given all the above,


And while noting that the disciplinary ruling dismissing Aoun, irrespective of its details, grounds, and proportionality to the acts imputed to her, sends a clear message to all judges to restrain themselves from prosecuting the most socially powerful people and, hence, from combating the gravest forms of corruption, especially as the judges most engaged in shelving case files and shielding suspects from accountability have not been held to account;


And while noting that this message forcing judges to restrain themselves comes at a time when the political authority is intensifying its assault on the entire judicial sphere with the intent of subjugating and obstructing it and when we are most in need of accountability in order to recover stolen private and public funds;


And while once again pointing out that Banking Secrecy Law no. 306 of 2022, which Parliament adopted after a laborious effort and under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and civil society, grants the competent judicial authorities the right to directly access information concerning corruption and property crimes – including money laundering, financing terrorism, and illicit enrichment – just by requesting it from the banks. The banks may not invoke professional confidentiality or banking secrecy, and the request need not go through any other judicial or administrative authority. This power, which facilitates serious and effective investigations to uncover crimes and infractions, determine liabilities, recover illegally acquired assets, and compensate the victims, could be the factor that caused vested interests to fear Aoun’s continued occupation of as principal and sensitive a position as her current one;


And while condemning, from all these angles, the disciplinary verdict against Aoun, its disproportionality to acts imputed to her, and its ramifications;


We state the following:


Firstly, we call on the SJC and the Judicial Inspection Authority to assume their historic responsibility to preserve judges’ independence and the role expected of them and, specifically, to encourage judges combating corruption and hold accountable judges who forsake their responsibilities in this regard. The yardstick for evaluating judges or holding them accountable must today be, first and foremost, their readiness to perform their aforementioned role for the sake of public interest.


Secondly, we call upon all democratic forces and the most representative bodies to rally as broadly as possible to ensure a sound environment for judges to perform their functions in the prosecution of financial crimes free of intimidation, abuse, interference, and – most importantly – obstruction. This means adopting the two bills on the independence of the judicial judiciary and administrative judiciary in accordance with international standards and the two bills amending the Code of Civil Procedure to end the absurdity of enabling every defendant to evade punishment.


Thirdly, we stand in full solidarity with every judicial body and judge presently working to defend and protect society’s rights, in the face of the bullying and smear campaigns and any other obstruction or suspension of their work. In this regard, we mention – in particular – the Cases Authority, which is waging an extremely important and delicate battle to defend the interests of state and society.


The Legal Agenda

The Policy Initiative

The Lebanese Association for Taxpayers’ Rights


To read this statement in Arabic, Click here.

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