Lebanese authrities have arrested two brothers suspected of smuggling drugs in pomegranate shipments to Saudi Arabia, leading the kingdom to ban Lebanese fruits and vegetables, the outgoing interior minister said Sunday.
Mohamed Fehmi told local MTV television station during a tour to the Lebanon-Syria border that Interpol is also following a third suspect. He gave no further details, saying only that the case is still under investigation.
In late April, Saudi Arabia announced it had seized over 5 million pills of the amphetamine Captagon hidden in a shipment of pomegranates coming from Lebanon.
Fehmi said that 2,000 pomegranates out of about 80,000 in the shipment were filled with Captagon pills. “It is very difficult to find them without scanners,” Fehmi said.
Asked if the militant Hezbollah group is involved, Fehmi said that according to his security information, they were not.
The United States had accused Hezbollah in the past of being involved in the drugs trade. The militant group strongly denies such charges.
The ban by Saudi Arabia came as Lebanon is undergoing its worst economic crisis in its history.
While Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of Lebanon, the kingdom has also been locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Tension between the two regional powerhouses have often spilled into a deadlock in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s Farmers Union called on the kingdom to repeal its decision. It said the mistake of one person or a criminal gang should not be a reason to punish the Lebanese people.
The Italian authorities revealed in late December that about 15 tons of Captagon amphetamine had been seized. After researching its origin, it appeared that the Lebanese Iran-backed Hezbollah was behind it, reported the Italian Nova news agency on Friday.
The Italian prosecutor explained that the financial value of the drug amounts to about one billion dollars.
The drugs were contained in three suspicious containers that included papers intended for industrial use and iron wheels.