Where to Find Lebanon’s Worst Seafront Violations

In simpler terms, influential figures will seize parcels of public seafront property and hastily put up structures, like a fence, to bar entry (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Mohammad Zbeeb

Published Monday, December 10, 2012

The Summerland resort, Walid Jumblatt, and a Kuwaiti princess. All have illegally claimed public land along Mount Lebanon’s coast for their own private benefit. Al-Akhbar investigates property violations in the southern part of Mount Lebanon’s coastal jurisdiction, where resorts and private beaches flourish on illegally reclaimed land.

In his letter to the prime minister’s secretariat (no.6/8990 on 26 November 2012), Minister of Public Works and Transportation Ghazi Aridi indicated that “some beachfront aggressors, who do not own adjacent property, end up extorting owners of adjacent property with large sums of money to relinquish ownership of the aggressed land.”

In simpler terms, influential figures will seize parcels of public seafront property and hastily put up structures, like a fence, to bar entry (as seen in the above picture depicting a part of Damour beach). Only then do the negotiations begin with owners of adjacent properties.

They force the owners either to relinquish their land or enter into a compulsory partnership that is counter to both sea property laws and the rights of Lebanese citizens.

Everyone acts as if the state does not exist. Even the public works ministry seems to have adapted to the situation. It forgot it was the side entrusted with protecting our national maritime property.

These aggressions are not limited to the Chouf coast, which falls under the feudal seafront property of MP Walid Jumblatt, nor do they stop at the Baabda coast, under the influence of Amal and Hezbollah.

The encroachment extends from the very south to the very north of the country. The worst hit area is between Rmaileh, 36 kilometers south of Beirut, and al-Heri, 74 kilometers north of Beirut. According to some estimates, people of money and influence are currently illegally occupying more than half of Lebanon’s beaches, developing touristic and industrial projects that exceed the allowed exploitation ratios.

The report sent to the cabinet by the entrusted Ministry of Public Works identifies around 390 unlicensed encroachments on the beach and sea in the governorate of Mount Lebanon, in addition to 33 encroachments licensed through mostly illegal governmental decrees.

The coast of Mount Lebanon is the most susceptible to violations due to its proximity to the capital, its charm, and its propensity to generate illegal rentier wealth.

The ministry estimates the total area of intrusions in this region to be more than 2,247,884 square meters (m²). They include 1,651,707 m² of reclaimed sea, and land facilities taking up to 162,383 m². Mount Lebanon’s share of aggressions totals half that of the country’s coastline.

According to the same report, there are ten “licensed” aggressions on Mount Lebanon’s coast south of Beirut, including the districts of Baabda, Aley, and Chouf, with an estimated area of 441,613 m².

Two of the licensed examples have exceeded the allowed area by an additional 33,260 m², mostly for reclaiming the sea to expand existing touristic facilities.

The first is Family Beach, owned by Wassef Nassar, Omar al-Ansari, and Adel Badreddine and Partners, who were awarded a decree allowing them to reclaim 836 m² of sea. Instead of the legal amount, they reclaimed 16,308 m², grabbed more than 3,614 m² of water surface, and constructed facilities on public property amounting to around 2,200 m².

The Société Générale d’Entreprises Touristiques, owner of the Summerland Hotel south of Beirut, was awarded a decree licensing reclamation of 30,950 m² of sea, development of 11,860 m² of the water surface, and erection of installations on 2,350 m².

But the Saab family, who owned the company at the time, reclaimed 42,774 m², seized 14,210 m² of water surface, and built installations on 4,300 m².

Summerland’s tale does not end here. The majority of stocks in the company were bought by several local and foreign investors, the most prominent being Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who owns 26.29 percent of stocks. The Saabs, namely former MP Khaled Saad and his brother Walid, who stayed on as chairman of the board of director, kept 38 percent.

Several years ago, the Summerland began major expansions, transforming its grounds into a five-star resort with several restaurants, swimming pools, chalets, sports facilities, a yacht marina, and luxury residential apartments.

The new resort was developed by reclaiming part of the sea and occupying public property as well as that of the owners’ original private property. Furthermore, the project owners took advantage of their financial and political influence to gain exemptions on building codes, urban development regulations, and planning guidelines.

Their efforts were supported by public funds. According to the contract signed with the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), they received a 50 percent discount on building license fees and full exemption on parcelling and property insurance fees. This is in addition to a ten-year exemption on fees related to registering rental contracts, employment licenses, residency, and tax on income and dividends.

This is a loss in the tens of millions of US dollars in public funds, which include $27 million in profit tax for a period of ten years, according to a report by IDAL sent to the cabinet, and $1 million in construction fees.

Summerland is a glaring example of the damage of financial and political influence to the state and the rights of citizens. But this also applies to the Sibline cement company, owned by Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt and several influential figures (including former minister Adnan al-Qassar).

Sibline received a decree allowing them to reclaim 100,000 m² of the coast located 39 kilometers south of Beirut and exploit 50,000 m² of the water surface.

In fact, the license came after Jumblatt had already claimed the sea area to build a harbor for petroleum ships and construct petroleum reservoirs on the same public property.

At the time, the investment was managed by Cogico (run by Bahij Abou Hamze) on behalf of Jumblatt and his associates. They were transferred to Sibline following the licensing of encroachments, which in turn expanded the port for its private commercial use.

A more egregious example is the nearby Jiyeh Marina, owned by Mohammed Saleh, a close friend of Jumblatt and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.

His decree allowed him to take over 29,479 m² of coast and sea on which he built a marina along with a cement bridge linking it to the beach. This spoilt the natural beach of Jiyeh, a former location of the Byzantine-era port.

Another violator in the area is the Emirati-Lebanese Investment Company, which was decreed 79,413 m² of reclaimed sea. Another 37,050 m² were given to Ibrahim al-Mudawwar and Abbas Hussein Hachem.

The official ministry report lists even more unlicensed encroachments on the Baabda and Chouf beachfronts, totaling 143 cases. The violators have seized a total of 328,215 m² of public beachfront property, mostly from reclaiming the sea.

They include 94 persons and entities who do not possess property adjacent to the violations, occupying 76,832 m² of public property.

Most notable of those is the Coral Beach Hotel & Resort, just south of the capital, which used to be owned by Lebanese businessman Izzat Qaddoura, illegally occupying 9,909 m² of public land.

In the early 2000s, the Central Bank of Lebanon (BDL) seized this property in the context of the Bank al-Madina money laundering case, wherein several were indicted.

There is also the Costa Brava Hotel, which Jumblatt admitted to taking bribes to allow its construction. The site is considered a threat to aviation, due to its proximity to the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, taking up 39,910 m² of public property.

The list of violators contains several popular beaches: Villamar, al-Jisr Beach, Bellevue, Jonas, Bonday, Oras, Sands, Rock, Mina (owned by Fayez Azzi), and Valley Beach.

Other perpetrators include former Democratic Left MP Elias Atallah, who grabbed 170 m², the Royal Court of Kuwait Directorate, Brigadier General Nazih al-Abdallah, Kuwaiti princess Badriya al-Sabah, and the Industry and Trade Group Inc., which reclaimed 37,500 m² of sea.

Several violations are not included in the report by the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation. These include parts of private homes of the Hariri family, such as Nazek Hariri’s palace in Saadiyat. Some are owned by former minister Talal Arslan and other politicians.

But the biggest violation on the sea in this area is the project to expand Beirut’s international airport by reclaiming the sea to build a new runway.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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