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Cablegate: Lebanese Press Jumps On Story of Possible Hizballah Money

O 080510Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5679
NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY
USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY
CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL//CCPA PRIORITY

UNCLAS BEIRUT 000996


STATE FOR NEA/ELA - LAWSON, NEA/ELA - IRWIN, NEA/PPD, R, INR/R/MR,
INR, NSC - MCDERMOTT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PREL KMDR OPRC KPAO KISL KPAL LE
SUBJECT: LEBANESE PRESS JUMPS ON STORY OF POSSIBLE HIZBALLAH MONEY
WOES

1. Summary: Since August 31, several Lebanese newspapers have been
reporting on Salah Ezzeddine declaring bankruptcy. Business tycoon
Ezzedine was perceived as a trustworthy businessman because of his
Hizballah connections. His bankruptcy caused severe financial
damage to Shi'a investors from South Lebanon, the Bekaa, and
Beirut's southern suburbs. The papers have reported that this issue
is being monitored closely by the Shi'a community, particularly by
Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, because of the impact
on Shi'a investors and on Hizballah's credibility. End summary.

2. Arab nationalist As-Safir newspaper reported August 31 that
Lebanese businessman and Hizballah publishing executive Hajj Salah
Ezzeddine declared bankruptcy amounting to an estimated $1.195
billion. The news was disastrous for many Lebanese - mostly Shi'a
-- investors. Ezzedine's case has been transferred to the judiciary
which will decide whether the bankruptcy is technical or fraudulent.


3. The Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported on September 1 that
Ezzeddine owned the Dar Al-Hadi Publishing House, named in honor of
Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah's son, Hadi. The firm
played a critical role in Hizballah's media campaigns and has, as
MENA noted, "functioned as the organization's primary publishing
source, printing anti-Israeli and 'resistance books' that include
publications by Hizballah's deputy Secretary General Sheikh Na'im
Qassem."

4. Also on September 1, As-Safir carried an article entitled, "Many
people were affected by the bankruptcy of the man known for his good
deeds." It noted that thousands of investors were stunned following
the news of the bankruptcy; some were even admitted to hospitals.
According to the article, investors expected and had been promised
high returns, although many lack receipts to prove their
investments. As-Safir reported that parliamentary Speaker Nabih
Berri, Hizballah SecGen Nasrallah and Shi'a religious authority
Allamah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah were following the issue.
As-Safir also said that those who lost money were worried because of
rumors that Ezzeddine did not possess enough real estate or cash
cover his company's loss. Pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper reported
September 2 that Ezzedine had only $30 million worth of real estate
and cash on hand.

5. Ezzeddine was the Dar Al-Hadi CEO and invested in the Al-Hadi
children's television station. He also ran companies involved in
iron, oil, jewelry, mines, and recycling of abandoned ships, and he
organized trips for the hajj. The apparent high confidence in
Ezzeddine's credibility stemmed from his closeness to Hizballah and
his zeal for offering assistance wherever needed.

6. Khitat.com, a website that deals with Shi'a affairs from an
anti-Hizballah point of view, posted a report doubting the
legitimacy of the bankruptcy. It emphasized that Ezzeddine's
businesses were intertwined with Hizballah's, and said that it was
impossible for him to have been deceitful or have taken risks with
money because he would have been risking Hizballah's money and
credibility. The article questioned the veracity of the bankruptcy
claim because the "man was not managing the money of Lebanese
investors only, but was also managing Hizballah's money." Khitat
concluded, "Ezzeddine's great fall, and the expected fall of other
important Hizballah figures, cannot be characterized as mere
bankruptcy. It should be placed within the framework of open war
between Hizballah and a number of international monetary inspection
organizations . . . In this sense, Ezzeddine's fall can be seen more
as a security violation than a businessman who acted rashly.
Perhaps this is the reason why one of the Shi'a ministers described
this event as similar in its financial results to the 2006 July
war."

SISON

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