Trust in Lebanese financier shakes Hezbollah’s image
The case of Salah Ezz el-Din, a Shi’ite Lebanese financier who has been accused of embezzlement and alleged to have defrauded Shi’ite investors, including Hezbollah officials, of hundreds of millions of dollars, has Lebanon in a stir.
But what’s more shocking than the amount is the overwhelming trust that his investors still have in him. That is, no doubt, due to Hezbollah’s approval of him.
There are even some Hezbollah officials who invested with him, although the group’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has denied any direct links with Ezz el-Din.
Political sources say the investors, most of whom are from the Hezbollah bastions of southern Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs, were so willing to part with their money because Hezbollah said Ezz el-Din was a man to be trusted.
Fouad Ajami, one of the investors, told Reuters: “To tell you the truth, people put their money with him because he was wearing the Hezbollah cloak, because he was close to Hezbollah and he duped people into thinking he was someone important in Hezbollah,” he said.
“They (investors) asked if he was trustworthy and they (Hezbollah) said he was, and they asked if they should put their money with him and (Hezbollah) said of course. Even those people in Hezbollah did not know anything about him,” Ajami said.
Certainly the saga has embarrassed Hezbollah, and Nasrallah has set up a crisis centre to deal with those who lost their money. He has not yet promised to provide compensation.
Now that the alleged pyramid scheme has come tumbling down, it begs the question: how could Hezbollah have been duped so easily?
The Ezz el-Din saga has also exposed Hezbollah in a new light. A “resistance” movement that emphasises the rewards of the after-life gained from “martyrdom”, it is disconcerting to some Lebanese to see several members of the movement so deeply involved in a get-rich-quickly scheme.
Certainly, this raises the question: To what extent will Hezbollah’s image be shaken by the Ezz el-Din saga?