BEIRUT/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A Lebanese security official said on Tuesday the Lebanese banking sector had been targeted by an Iraq-based network that tried to extort money from Lebanese banks and was uncovered in a joint operation with Iraqi authorities.
Earlier, Iraqi intelligence said the network had been uncovered and a number of members of the gang detained, in coordination with Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security.
The gang published false news and fabricated information with the aim of extorting Lebanese banks, claiming their ownership of deeds of assets to the value of millions of U.S. dollars, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security, said in Beirut.
“More than one bank was targeted but the big operations were happening against Bank Audi,” Ibrahim said.
“We want to see who is behind this gang...The matter may exceed $1 billion,” he added. “There is certainly targeting of the Lebanese banking sector.”
Those arrested were Iraqis, he added. General Security had been following the case for more than a year.
An intelligence source in Iraq said Iraqi and Lebanese authorities had “managed to compromise a criminal network that attempted to blackmail some Baghdad-based banks, including Lebanon’s Audi, by using forged documents to withdraw huge cash (amounts) in U.S. dollar”.
Some people in the network were still in large and were being sought, the intelligence source said.
Bank Audi, in a statement, thanked the Iraqi authorities and Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security for their “intensive effort and timely action”.
Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Angus MacSwan