Top Amal official purchased 40 weapons from Switzerland for his personal protection

Former minister MP Ghazi Zoaiter confirmed on Friday that in 2016 he purchased from Switzerland 40 weapons for his personal security detail, saying he was still in possession of the arms.

“The weapons included ten automatic rifles and 30 pistols for my personal protection,” Zoaiter told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday, stressing that they aim to equip his bodyguards in Beirut, Baalbek and Hermel.

His remarks came after a Swiss decision on Thursday to freeze arms exports to Lebanon.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said in a statement that despite trying multiple times, it had been unable to locate 31 of the 40 arms that it sold to Zoaiter three years ago.

The MP, who is from the Amal Movement’s parliamentary bloc, refused to implicate the Lebanese army or other official party in the Swiss arms fiasco.

“Considering the dangerous security threats to our country, especially the terrorist attacks on the eastern border, the concerned authorities in Switzerland had been contacted to purchase 40 individual weapons to provide personal protection for MP Ghazi Zoaiter,” his office clarified in a statement.

The MP said he had also contacted the Swiss Embassy to inform it of the weapons’ whereabouts, accusing it of rejecting to inspect them, despite claims by Bern that it could only locate nine out of the 40 arms during a post-shipment verification in March last year.

Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese Army general and director of the Middle East Center for Political Studies and Research, told Asharq Al-Awsat that states impose high surveillance on companies selling weapons. They demand to learn the last destination for any sold item to prevent arms from being transferred to an unauthorized third party.

On Friday, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab denied allegations that the weapons had been sold to the army and had gone missing while in its possession.

“Those who spread false information about the Lebanese army should be careful,” he told a local television.

Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon Monika Schmutz Kirgöz told LBCI that her country had a contract saying arms transmitted to security units protecting political figures must be able to be inspected by Swiss authorities to make sure they don’t wind up in the wrong hands.

However, Switzerland said its inspectors were only able to verify and inspect nine of the 40 small arms.

Asharq Al-Awsat