BEIRUT (REUTERS) – Saudi Arabia announced on Friday (April 24) a ban on imports of fruits and vegetables from Lebanon, blaming an increase in drug smuggling, in a measure that will add to Lebanon’s economic woes.
Lebanon is already in the throes of a deep financial crisis that is posing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war. Its agriculture minister said the move was a “great loss” and that the trade was worth US$24 million (S$31.8 million) a year.
The Lebanese foreign ministry said it had been informed of the ban through the Saudi embassy and the foreign minister had relayed it to top officials.
“Lebanese authorities must exert utmost efforts to control all smuggling operations … to prevent harm to innocent citizens, farmers, industrialists and the Lebanese economy,” the Lebanese foreign ministry statement said.
The ban will take effect from 9am local time on Sunday. Saudi customs authorities at Jeddah had foiled an attempt to smuggle in more than 5.3 million Captagon pills, a type of amphetamine, hidden in pomegranate shipments from Lebanon, said Mohammed bin Ali al-Naim, undersecretary for security affairs at Saudi Customs, according to Saudi Arabia’s SPA news agency.
Saudi’s al-Arabiya TV also said overnight that with the help of Saudi’s drug enforcement agency, Greek authorities seized 4.3 tonnes of cannabis, stashed in dessert-making machinery, en route from Lebanon to Slovakia.
Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister Mohamed Fahmy told Reuters Lebanon was ready to cooperate with all states to stop drug smuggling and that it had already been exerting “tremendous efforts” but that sometimes smugglers might succeed.
One Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ban appeared to be political. “The export of Lebanese vegetables and fruits to the Gulf countries and especially the kingdom was one of the few doors that were still open to bring dollars into the country. Closing this import line increases pressure on Lebanon,” he said.
A senior official at the Lebanese agriculture ministry said there were no documents showing that produce used to smuggle Captagon pills was Lebanese.