U.S. imposes sanctions on Lebanese president’s son-in-law

© Reuters. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil attends a meeting with Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano in Rome

By Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States imposed sanctions on Friday on Gebran Bassil, the leader of Lebanon’s biggest Christian political bloc and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, accusing him of corruption and ties to Hezbollah.

Bassil, a former foreign minister, heads the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Aoun.

The sanctions could complicate efforts by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, who is trying to navigate Lebanon’s sectarian politics to assemble a cabinet to tackle a financial meltdown, Lebanon’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

In recent months, the United States has also placed sanctions on several officials linked to Hezbollah, the armed Iran-backed Shi’ite movement that has become Lebanon’s most powerful political force, and which Washington considers a terrorist group.

The Treasury Department said Bassil was at the “forefront of corruption in Lebanon”.

“The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Bassil said in a Twitter post that sanctions did not scare him and that he had not been “tempted by promises”.

A senior U.S. official said Bassil’s support for Hezbollah was “every bit of the motivation” for targeting him for sanctions.

Bassil was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets human rights abuses and corruption around the world. It calls for a freeze on any U.S. assets and prohibits Americans from doing business with him.

The State Department also imposed a ban on Bassil’s travel to the United States. U.S. officials did not rule out further sanctions on Bassil or others in Lebanon.

A senior U.S. official said the sanctions announcement was “not intended to impact a government formation process” in Lebanon. The official also denied any connection between the announcement and this week’s U.S. elections, saying such sanctions packages take months to prepare.

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