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LEBANON: Hezbollah chief denies links to allegedly crooked moneyman

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It’s turning into the biggest financial scandal to hit Lebanon in years, perpetrated by a businessman being dubbed the nation’s Bernie Madoff.

Now, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is weighing in on the topic amid allegations that Salah Ezzedine (pictured, at right) was a financier of the Shiite militant group and political organization.

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In a speech last night, Nasrallah said the party had nothing to do with Ezzedine, now in jail after allegedly losing $1.5 billion of investors’ money in what some are calling a Ponzi scheme.

Ezzedine was a financier and owner of a publishing house close to Hezbollah. But Nasrallah denied allegations that Hezbollah leaders had invested huge unexplained sums with Ezzedine, who reportedly offered returns of between 25% and 55% to investors, luring families.as well as charities to pour cash into his company.

‘I tell you that these are false allegations,’ he said. ‘These Hezbollah leaders own nothing of the funds that people claim they own.’

Jokingly, he added, ‘I wish they owned those amounts; that would not have upset us.’

He said it was up to Lebanon’s judiciary to figure out how much money Ezzedine swiped.

But he acknowledged that something awful had taken place.

‘What was worse and more dangerous, however, was the attempt to use this tragedy -- and it is really a human and social tragedy -- to tarnish Hezbollah’s image, march, leadership, line, and history,’ he said in televised remarks. ‘There were many grievances here.... I just wanted to say that this is a tragedy that affected a large number of Lebanese families. It causes pain and sorrow.’

But he added that Hezbollah’s leadership, organization and leaders have ‘nothing whatsoever to do with this issue, from beginning to end.’

He said Hezbollah would issue a more-detailed account of the the Ezzedine affair shortly.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Video: Al Jazeera International broadcast a report about the Salah Ezzedine scandal.


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