Yousef Khalaf Boarded a Plane with $3.5 million in his Suitcase 

Hala Nasreddine
Lebanese Journalist

While the Lebanese are denied access to their bank accounts and life savings, a Jordanian businessman managed to withdraw $3.5 million. He was arrested when boarding his private jet. Who is he? How could he withdraw millions? And who gave him a Lebanese passport?

Lebanon’s corruption scandals just continue to unfold, with new shocking revelations almost every day. The latest episode features Yousef Khalaf, a Jordanian businessman who on April 19 was detained by Lebanese officials at the Beirut International Airport for trying to leave the cash-stripped country with US$ 3.5 million in his suitcase.

Khalaf was traveling to London by private jet. Khalaf told officials he had withdrawn the money from Mawarid Bank, whose Chairman and General Manager Marwan Kheireddine was recently indicted by the French legal authorities.

Apparently, Khalaf was able to withdraw US$ 3.5 million of so-called “fresh dollars,” while countless Lebanese have been waiting in line in front of Mawarid and numerous other banks trying to retrieve just a fragment of their deposits, which have been frozen since the outbreak of the economic crisis in October 2019. 

According to several of Daraj’ legal and financial sources, Khalaf is close to Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He was even spotted wandering through Beirut accompanied by a public security team.

In 2018, Khalaf, his wife Majdoleen Lotfi Abdel Rahman Al-Daoud and their two sons, Fathi and Omar, obtained Lebanese citizenship as a result of the Naturalisation Decree signed by Lebanon’s former President Michel Aoun. Hariri was prime minister at the time. 

The decree granted Lebanese citizenship to some 375 businessmen, several of whom were close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and sparked a huge controversy at the time.  

Hariri Family Bank

Reportedly, financial prosecutor Ali Ibrahim was assigned the Khalaf case, after Lebanon’s chief prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, imposed a travel ban on him and ordered the cash to be seized. 

Legal sources told Daraj that Hariri contacted a high-level legal source to prevent Khalaf’s arrest. And, indeed, he was not arrested. Only his passport was taken. 

Hariri, who retired from politics before the parliamentary elections in 2022, apparently did not retire from pulling strings when it comes to protecting and defending people with whom he shares a common interest.

Daraj’ sources claimed Hariri tried to sell Khalaf a stake in Bankmed, which is by and large the Hariri family bank. This happened following a failed attempt by Saad’s younger brother Ayman to sell a stake to Jordanian-Palestinian-Lebanese businessman Ala’a Al-Khawaja. The deal fell through after Khawaja failed to pay the agreed-upon sum. 

French Indictment

Mawarid’s topman Marwan Kheireddine is not new to dodgy deals and smuggling money. Earlier this month, French prosecutors, as part of their Lebanese Central Bank probe, indicted Kheireddine for belonging to a criminal organization and money laundering. 

Kheireddine allegedly not only smuggled his own money out of Lebanon but also assisted other wealthy Lebanese in transferring their money abroad. Meanwhile, the majority of the Lebanese population lost everything.

According to a Daraj investigation, Kheireddine helped Nady Salameh, son of Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, transfer $6.5 million abroad in late 2019, at a time when regular people could no longer access their savings.

According to another Daraj investigation, which was conducted as part of the Pandora Papers project, Kheireddine owns two businesses in the British Virgin Islands. Through one of them, Driftwood Limited, he acquired a $2 million yacht in April 2019, just months before the outbreak of the financial crisis, while in August 2020, with Lebanon’s economic collapse in full swing, he bought a luxury apartment in New York for $9.9 million. 

“Marwan Kheireddine has been indicted for aggravated money laundering and participation in a criminal conspiracy,” French deputy financial prosecutor Antoine Jocteur-Monrozier told The National newspaper on April 7. “He has been placed under legal supervision as part of the French judicial investigation targeting embezzlement at the Lebanese Central Bank.”

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