Lebanon is not currently identified by FATF as having substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF) risks or having strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.
Compliance with FATF Recommendations
The last Mutual Evaluation Report relating to the implementation of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing standards in Lebanon was undertaken by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2009. According to that Evaluation, Lebanon was deemed Compliant for 4 and Largely Compliant for 19 of the FATF 40 + 9 Recommendations. It was Partially Compliant or Non-Compliant for 5 of the 6 Core Recommendations.
US Department of State Money Laundering assessment (INCSR)
Lebanon was last deemed a Jurisdiction of Primary Concern in the US Department of State 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR). The Overview from that report was as follows: -
Lebanon is a hub for banking activities in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean and has one of the most sophisticated banking sectors in the region. Over the past two years, Lebanon’s government passed key legislation that strengthened its AML regime. The Central Bank of Lebanon, together with its Special Investigation Commission (SIC), regularly issues and updates compliance regulations in accordance with international banking standards. The SIC, Lebanon’s FIU, is also the main AML supervisory authority and is empowered to freeze financial transactions and accounts.
UN, US and EU sanctions in force, which include the freezing of funds and economic resources of those suspected of being involved in planning, sponsoring, organising or perpetrating the terrorist bombing in Beirut in 2005 resulting in a number of deaths, including that of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, a prohibition on providing, directly or indirectly, technical assistance relating to military activities and to the provision, manufacture, maintenance and use of arms and related material, and A prohibition on financing or financial assistance related to military activities in Lebanon.
The Arab League (comprising 22 Arab member states), of which this country is a member, has approved imposing sanctions on Syria. These include: -
Cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank
Halting funding by Arab governments for projects in Syria
A ban on senior Syrian officials travelling to other Arab countries
A freeze on assets related to President Bashar al-Assad's government
The declaration also calls on Arab central banks to monitor transfers to Syria, with the exception of remittances from Syrians abroad.
It should be noted that Lebanon and Iraq have refused to impose the sanctions.
The Arab League has also boycotted Israel in a systematic effort to isolate Israel economically in support of the Palestinians, however, the implementation of the boycott has varied over time among member states. There are three tiers to the boycott. The primary boycott prohibits the importation of Israeli-origin goods and services into boycotting countries. The secondary boycott prohibits individuals, as well as private and public sector firms and organizations, in member countries from engaging in business with any entity that does business in Israel. The Arab League maintains a blacklist of such firms. The tertiary boycott prohibits any entity in a member country from doing business with a company or individual that has business dealings with U.S. or other firms on the Arab League blacklist.
BRIBERY & CORRUPTION
Rating (100-Good / 0-Bad)
Transparency International Corruption Index 28
World Governance Indicator – Control of Corruption 15
Corruption is a major obstacle for companies operating or planning to invest in Lebanon. Businesses are mostly hindered by entrenched patronage networks monopolizing the economy and impeding competitiveness, but also by petty corruption when applying for basic services. The Lebanese Penal Code criminalizes most forms of corruption; including active and passive bribery and the bribery of foreign officials, however, enforcement of these laws is poor. Offering bribes and gifts are widespread practices and an established way of doing business in the country. Facilitation payments are illegal in Lebanon. For further information - GAN Integrity Business Anti-Corruption Portal
Lebanon has a free-market economy and a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. The government does not restrict foreign investment; however, the investment climate suffers from red tape, corruption, arbitrary licensing decisions, complex customs procedures, high taxes, tariffs, and fees, archaic legislation, and weak intellectual property rights. The Lebanese economy is service-oriented; main growth sectors include banking and tourism.
The 1975-90 civil war seriously damaged Lebanon's economic infrastructure, cut national output by half, and derailed Lebanon's position as a Middle Eastern entrepot and banking hub. Following the civil war, Lebanon rebuilt much of its war-torn physical and financial infrastructure by borrowing heavily, mostly from domestic banks, which saddled the government with a huge debt burden. Pledges of economic and financial reforms made at separate international donor conferences during the 2000s have mostly gone unfulfilled, including those made during the Paris III Donor Conference in 2007, following the July 2006 war.
Spillover from the Syrian conflict, including the influx of more than 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees, has increased internal tension and slowed economic growth to the 1-2% range in 2011-15, after four years of averaging 8% growth. Syrian refugees have increased the labor supply, but pushed more Lebanese into unemployment. Chronic fiscal deficits have increased Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio, the fourth highest in the world; most of the debt is held internally by Lebanese banks. Weak economic growth limits tax revenues, while the largest government expenditures remain debt servicing, salaries for government workers, and transfers to the electricity sector. These limitations constrain other government spending and limit the government’s ability to invest in necessary infrastructure improvements, such as water, electricity, and transportation.
Agriculture - products:
citrus, grapes, tomatoes, apples, vegetables, potatoes, olives, tobacco; sheep, goats
banking, tourism, food processing, wine, jewellery, cement, textiles, mineral and chemical products, wood and furniture products, oil refining, metal fabricating
Exports - commodities:
jewelry, base metals, chemicals, consumer goods, fruit and vegetables, tobacco, construction minerals, electric power machinery and switchgear, textile fibers, paper
Exports - partners:
Saudi Arabia 12.1%, UAE 10.6%, Iraq 7.6%, Syria 7.1%, South Africa 6.6% (2015)
Imports - commodities:
petroleum products, cars, medicinal products, clothing, meat and live animals, consumer goods, paper, textile fabrics, tobacco, electrical machinery and equipment, chemicals
Imports - partners:
China 11.5%, Italy 7.1%, Germany 6.8%, France 6%, US 5.7%, Russia 4.6%, Greece 4.4% (2015)
Investment Climate - US State Department
Lebanon is open to foreign direct investment. Its many advantages include a free-market economy, the absence of controls on the movement of capital and foreign exchange, a well-developed banking system with strong financial soundness indicators, a highly-educated labor force, good quality of life, and limited restrictions on investors. However, issues that continue to cause frustration among local and foreign businesses include corruption, political risk, red tape, arbitrary licensing, outdated legislation, an ineffectual judicial system, high taxes and fees, lack of transparency, and weak enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Lebanon has not had a president since May 2014 and political deadlock has led to a stalemate in electing a successor. The ongoing vacancy and broader political paralysis have debilitated an already divided cabinet and parliament and stalled progress on major decisions that require political consensus. This has contributed to a perception of domestic political risk that encourages emigration and discourages economic activity. However, Central Bank stimulus packages since January 2013, totaling USD 4.8 billion, have partially compensated for these negative impacts on the economy. These stimulus packages and an increase in domestic consumption of goods and services (in part from the presence of an estimated 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon) helped Lebanon achieve GDP growth of one percent in 2015 (IMF).
In 2016, external political risk perceptions also remain high, given the negative impact of the continuing turmoil in Syria and the region on the Lebanese economy. The vacant presidency, a tense security environment, and the travel warnings/bans on Lebanon imposed by some Gulf countries exacerbate these already significant challenges. As a result, many investors have maintained a wait-and-see approach.
Declining oil prices and sluggish GCC country economies led to a decline in remittances. Overseas remittances to Lebanon decreased from USD 7.40 billion in 2014 to USD 7.16 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank. Although the public deficit, which reached 6.4 percent of GDP in 2015, remains an issue of concern for investors, the Government of Lebanon (GoL) should not face difficulties in financing its deficit and rolling over sovereign maturities coming due in 2016. The domestic banking sector remains strong and the continued growth in deposits in private banks is sufficient to finance the borrowing needs of the economy. The Central Bank continues to publicly assert that it will maintain monetary and financial stability – reassuring investors that there will be no debt defaults or currency depreciation.
The business climate remains sensitive to domestic and regional political and security developments. Spillover from the Syrian crisis will continue to impact growth, which is expected to remain below potential until the crisis abates. In addition to political divisions, political paralysis and vested interests have blocked structural reforms and legislation to stimulate growth, encourage private sector development, and create jobs.
Lebanon welcomes U.S. investment. Significant potential opportunities for U.S. companies exist in the energy sector, particularly for oil and gas exploration and power production. However, political paralysis in Lebanon has delayed the first bid round for offshore oil and gas exploration and authorities have not yet set a new date. Other investment opportunities include the fields of information and communication technology, healthcare, safety and security, environment and franchising.
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