Roumieh Prison fraudsters handed sentences

The Daily Star

Youssef Diab

Judiciary and Prison System

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The Military court Monday handed down an 18-month prison sentence to a man convicted of running a defrauding operation from Roumieh Prison, while his two accomplices were sentenced to six months each. Paul Bou Merhi admitted to helping Ahmad Farhat and Hasan Sleem dupe store owners into supplying them with additional mobile phone lines by impersonating Internal Security Forces officers and promising to pay them for the numbers later.

He said the victims were “idiots.”

But Farhat, who was tried together with Bou Merhi, testified that it was Bou Merhi who selected the targets. He said Bou Merhi directed another scheme, as well, to defraud people who thought they were donating to cancer patients.

Sleem was tried in absentia.

Farhat said Bou Merhi would call people to ask them to help cover someone else’s medical expenses. Bou Merhi would then give the target a phone number in Farhat’s possession, saying it was the doctor, who could further explain the patient’s condition. Farhat, sitting next to Bou Merhi, would take the call and convince the target of the gravity of the patient’s condition and their suffering, until the caller agreed to make a donation, and the two men arranged to have a third party outside the prison complete the transaction.

Bou Merhi was able to defraud a sports club of $3,000, and other victims of even more. Farhat said he was simply Bou Merhi’s accomplice.

The court, which was presided over by Brig. Gen. Khalil Ibrahim, handed the longer sentence to Bou Merhi, and fined each of the three culprits LL500,000.

Bou Merhi, who has been in custody for six years awaiting his sentence, will not be immediately released. He is still to face 12 other charges, and most of them are related to fraud.

Separately, the court fined the head of the Mourabitoun al-Sham group LL1,000,000 ($667) for “insulting the reputation of the institution of the Army and vilifying public administrations.”

Mohammad Dourgham was convicted of insulting Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi in a statement that called on the general to disband the Army and label it an enemy force.

Dourgham, who was arrested at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, protested his detention. “I was not fleeing,” he told the court. “I did not receive the trial date and the entire file was fixed against me.”

Ibrahim disagreed. “The way you were treated is the epitome of justice,” he said. “Did you forget what you said against the head of the Army and the military institution, do you want us to bring footage and audio of your testimony?”

Dourgham recanted his confrontational tone and clarified his stance. “I am not against the head of the Army nor its institution but the sequence of events propelled me to say what I said,” he said, referring to the 2013 battle between the Army against extremist militants in Sidon’s eastern suburb of Abra. “It was not a direct insult but the circumstances demanded it.”

Public Prosecutor Judge Hani Hilme interjected. “We are not prosecuting you for your political ideas.”

After further interrogation, Dourgham admitted, “What I said might have been wrong and I should have toned it down ... but as a politician I think that the entire country is wrong and needs to be thrown in the garbage.”

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