Kidnap, torture, corruption – things Lara Mansour Samaha and her husband Elie were subjected to in Lebanon in a shocking story involving multiple Lebanese politicians.
After falling victim to a system rigged with corruption, the Lebanese-American couple is seeking justice through U.S. courts.
They filed a lawsuit against Gebran Bassil, Salim Jreissati, Peter Germanos, Dany Macaron, Ziad Mekkana, and several other defendants, who have all been summoned by a U.S. District Court, days before the announcement of the sanctions on Bassil.
The961 obtained the court documents of this case.
The story starts in 2017 when Lara Mansour Samaha’s father, Geroge Mansour, passed away, leaving her a multimillion-dollar inheritance.
However, according to the heiress of the $10 million fortune, her family (the Mansours) in Lebanon kept her from claiming the inheritance, which she argued was rightfully hers.
This evolved into a legal dispute, where Samaha filed a lawsuit in both Lebanon and in the Southern District of Florida where she resides.
In 2019, Lara and Elie Samaha were told to come back to Lebanon so they can settle the case. Upon their arrival, Lara was arrested for alleged defamation, and taken into custody.
The Samaha family’s predicament was even reported back then by news outlets in the U.S., including Florida’s Local 10 News.
Detainment and Torture
When Lara was arrested, her husband Elie made efforts to understand why and find out how to free her. He communicated with many Lebanese politicians for help.
He went to Beirut’s State Prosecutor for Appeals, Judge Ziad Abu Haidar, who reportedly told him that Lara will not leave before relinquishing the lawsuit in America. Elie reportedly reached out for help from Bassil’s lawyer Majed Boueiz and President Aoun’s daughter, Claudine Aoun, to no avail.
Instead, the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) contacted him, confiscated his cellphone, and detained him too. As per the reports, Elie lost consciousness several times while detained and did not receive medical care.
According to their legal complaint against Bassil and others, the couple was taken to an “underground military prison without access to light, food, water, or medication,” where they were detained in inhumane conditions without any formal charges.
The legal complaint accused the defendants to have subjected the couple to “kidnapping, harsh interrogation, and cruel torture-like tactics” all with the intent of forcing them to drop the lawsuit they previously filed.
“They tried to kill us. They put a knife on us,” Lara said.
“We were underground … we couldn’t see any light,” Elie told the reporters in Miami.
In detention, Lara was deprived of her diabetes medication, which she must take regularly. She recounted that she was forced to remove all her clothes and remain that way in front of security men and had to listen to people being tortured just steps away.
Bassil & Co. Involvement
Lara and Elie Samaha claim that Bassil received a reward (aka accepted a bribe) from the Mansour family for using his relations with the security and judicial agencies and abusing his power as minister to order the kidnapping and torture of Lara and Elie.
Just this week, on November 3rd, three days before Bassil was sanctioned by the U.S., his office denied any involvement in this “family dispute.”
“MP Bassil has absolutely nothing to do with it, neither from near nor from afar,” the statement read.
Former Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, another defendant in this legal case, is a key FPM member with loyalties to Bassil, according to the lawsuit, which stated that Jreissati used his connections to carry out Bassil’s directives to organize the kidnapping and torture of the couple.
Another FPM member, Ziad Mekkana, is accused of facilitating the whole scheme, by filing a defamation complaint against the two.
The corruption goes beyond just the mentioned FPM members.
During the couple’s detainment, the Mansour family’s lawyer, Dany Macaron, who was allegedly aware of the abduction and torture, negotiated with the couple’s lawyer to withdraw the lawsuit in exchange for their safe release.
Peter Germanos, who was Lebanon’s top military prosecutor at the time (he resigned in February), is accused of carrying out Bassil’s and Jreissati’s orders of transferring Lara and Elie to the detention facilities, there where they were tortured.
Lara’s & Elie’s Release
Efforts were many from the US Embassy and the US State Department, as well the couple’s lawyer to secure their release. However, by the time they succeeded, Lara had buckled under the pressure of harsh physical and mental abuse and yielded, dismissing the lawsuit for her inheritance in exchange for her freedom.
“They forced me to sign everything, to dismiss everything,” she told Local 10 News. A U.S. Court said that Lara’s dismissal of the lawsuit was “the product of duress and coercion.”
The summon states that the defendants, Bassil along with the cited members of his political party and some others, “acted in concert to torture” the couple.
“This case is not about inheritance or family matter,” writes Charbel Hage, who is based in Washington D.C. It is about corruption deeply embedded in Lebanon’s judicial and political system – and more importantly, about standing up to the injustice and bringing it to an end.
It appears that the shocking case of the Samaha couple, who are American citizens, has something to do with the U.S. sanctions imposed on Bassil, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets corruption, serious human rights abuse, and torture.
The Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, stated the sanctions’ case against Bassil is solid while, consequently, President Aoun is seeking proof that his son-in-law is corrupt.
The case of Lara and Elie Samaha, who were brutally ‘punished’ for seeking their family inheritance rights, exemplifies how people in Lebanon get arrested for “defamation” as a subterfuge to oppress them into yielding to corrupt power.
Alleged Sale To Hezbollah
The court documents highlight the sale of assets and inheritance land in Lebanon to people, with alleged Hezbollah-links, for cash. This is reportedly why Bassil, Jreissati, and Germanos became involved.
As of November 4th, 2020, the court, at the request of the Plaintiff Lara Samaha, dismissed the following defendants: Ziad Abo Haidar, Ali Ahmad Bou Hamdan, Samir Hammoud, Fadi Wadih Layoun, Marlene Wadih Layoun, Amira Ahmad Marabouni, Rabih Jamil Noureddine, Pascal Antoun, and Mohammed Ali Barbar.
DLA Piper, the attorneys of the FPM group, was paid by the Lebanese government to represent them. However, DLA Piper later dropped their representation of the FPM members. Several decided to represent themselves, including Salim Jreissati