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Salah Ezzedine, Hezbollah’s Madoff

Who is Salah Ezzedine? If you had asked the Lebanese people two weeks ago, you might have heard that Ezzedine was a pious man, a wealthy business man, sure, but a philanthropist as well who ran a charity organizing pilgrimage trips to Muslims holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.  But today you’d hear a different story.

Already dubbed the “Lebanese Madoff”, in reference to Bernard Madoff, the New York failed financier whose multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme wiped out thousands of investors and charities worldwide, Salah Ezzedine is currently being held in custody on suspicion of fraud after he invested hundreds of millions of dollars of other people’s money before declaring bankruptcy.

Hundreds of people had invested with him, including at least four senior members of Hezbollahwho are said to have suffered serious financial losses as the result of this scheme which is suspected to amount to more than one billion dollars.

It’s a strong blow to Hezbollah’s image who had built up its prestige on its austere religious image and squeaky-clean reputation for financial and political probity.

Indeed many Muslims believe that bank interest is un-Islamic, which is why the Lebanese Shia put their money in businesses run by Salah Ezzedine, who had created the image of a religious and trustworthy investor who was close to and protected by Hezbollah.

The party now denies all involvement with financial misconduct. “Neither Hezbollah, nor its leadership, nor its members have any link to this matter,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told the BBC. He also said the aim of the media reports was to harm the image of many of the party’s leaders.

Hezbollah highly values its legal and political standing in Lebanon and the impact of the financial loss which has just been unveiled in public standing should not be underestimated. Especially after the feeble results that Hezbollah scored in the last elections.

Journalists known to be close to the group have already expressed strong and rare criticism towards the “Party of God”. Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Lebanese As-Safir daily, which is close to Hizbullah, wrote on Monday that “Hizbullah is not the first and will not be the last revolutionary movement that gets corrupted with money.”