A fugitive bank executive wanted for questioning in the U.N. probe of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination was arrested in Brazil after she attempted to buy her freedom with a $200,000 bribe, authorities said Monday.
Rana Abdel Rahim Koleilat, 39, is wanted in Lebanon for fraud involving a bank collapse that was Lebanon’s largest financial scandal since the country’s 1975-90 civil war, the Lebanese consul general in Sao Paulo said.
She is also being sought for questioning by the U.N.’s Independent International Investigation Commission, which is probing the truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 other people in downtown Beirut last year, consul general Joseph Sayah said.
“It’s vital that Miss Koleilat submit herself before the U.N. commission for questioning,” Sayah said in a statement to investigators that Brazilian police showed to reporters Monday.
Sayah did not say why the panel wished to question Koleilat, but police inspector Nicanor Nogueira Branco said Brazilian authorities were told investigators want to know whether funds allegedly diverted from the bank where she worked were used to finance the killing of Hariri. U.N. officials had no immediate comment.
Offered $200,000 bribe
Branco said police acting on an anonymous tip found Koleilat Sunday in a hotel apartment on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. She offered officers up to $200,000 to release her and was arrested on a charge of attempted bribery, Branco said.
Lebanese consular officials spent hours Monday inside the police station where Koleilat was being held, but declined to speak with journalists.
Koleilat was jailed in Lebanon after the disappearance of millions of dollars from the private al-Medina Bank where she worked, but was released on bail in 2005 and disappeared. Sayah told Brazilian authorities the amount could total as much as $1.2 billion, Branco said.
U.S. News & World Report reported last year that the bank allegedly funneled money to Syrian and Lebanese officials, laundered funds for Iraq’s Central Bank when Saddam Hussein was in power and funded Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization. Her lawyer told the magazine she denied any wrongdoing.
Found with British passport
In Brazil, she was carrying a British passport identifying her as Rana Klailat, which showed she had traveled to China, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, Branco said. She visited Brazil three times over the last year or so, he said.
Sao Paulo is home to a large community of Brazilians of Lebanese descent. Hariri’s son, Saad Rafik Hariri, visited Brazil last year and asked Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for help investigating suspected Syrian involvement in his father’s death.
Brazilian authorities were consulting with British officials to determine whether Koleilat’s passport was legitimate, Branco said. British officials in Brazil had no immediate comment.
Branco said Koleilat spoke fluent French, English and Arabic but very poor Portuguese, the Brazilian language.
Branco said he did not know if Koleilat would be extradited or prosecuted first in Brazil on the bribery accusation. She was arrested for attempted corruption and faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.