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Former Ogero head walks free over 'lack of evidence'.

Summary: The former head of the state-run internet provider, who was on trial for corruption and squandering of public funds, was acquitted Thursday due to a lack of evidence.

BEIRUT: The former head of the state-run internet provider, who was on trial for corruption and squandering of public funds, was acquitted Thursday due to a lack of evidence.

Beirut Investigative Judge Fadi Oneissi closed the case of former Ogero head Abdel-Moneim Youssef citing a "lack of evidence," a judicial source told The Daily Star.

Youssef's last court session took place on June 19, and he was released on bail after the hearing.

Several politicians and activists have accused Youssef of being involved in the setup of illegal internet networks and internet service providers across the country.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave the green light to the judiciary to proceed with the prosecution of the former Ogero head in March, following the announcement of unlicensed internet networks the year before.

State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud received Hariri's approval to prosecute Youssef for his alleged corruption during his time as the head of Ogero, and notified Parliament's Telcoms Committee at a meeting on March 8.

Youssef's acquittal was the latest development in Lebanon's illegal internet scandal, which has ensnared over a dozen suspects, including MTV Lebanon CEO Michel Gabriel Murr.

Then-Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb announced in March 2016 that a number of unlicensed internet providers were operating, and that the connections had been tapped by Israel to spy on the country. Four large-scale illegal networks were discovered: one in Zaarour, another in Oyoun al-Siman and two more in the Dinnieh district and Faqra.

Ogero equipment was discovered at some of the sites.

Operators of the unlicensed networks reportedly purchased bandwidth from abroad and sold it in Lebanon below official rates.

The head of Parliament's Telcoms Committee MP Hasan Fadlallah said in March that the matter had cost the state a significant amount of money. "Some $200 million was wasted in the case of illegal internet, while illegal communication cost [the state Treasury] around $60 million," he told reporters in a joint news conference with State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud.

In September 2016, Lebanon's Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim charged MTV Lebanon CEO Murr with embezzlement for his alleged involvement in the Zaarour network.

In an interview with The Daily Star in October 2016, Murr hit back at the accusations, strongly denied any wrongdoing, and claimed the charges were politically motivated for speaking out against Hezbollah and corruption in the government.

He also said that "all five ... judicial apparatuses determined we were innocent [of the charges]."

The discovery of the unlicensed internet stations raised a number of questions, including how the equipment was imported.

Twelve individuals were indicted in the case in May.

Two were customs officials who were accused of accepting bribes and facilitating the smuggling of illegal equipment into the country in order to avoid paying taxes.

The 10 other suspects were accused of bribing the two Customs agents, tax evasion and violating administrative and customs provisions.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Jul 7, 2017
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