The UAE-based conglomerate Al Habtoor Group has issued a formal notice against Lebanon for breaching its bilateral investment treaty with the UAE.
Under the UAE-Lebanon treaty that was enforced in 1999, Lebanon had committed to safeguard investments made by Emirati entities within its borders.
“Lebanon has breached its obligations under the treaty towards Al Habtoor Group. In particular, Lebanon and its central bank have imposed restrictions preventing Al Habtoor Group from freely transferring its funds amounting to over $44 million from the Lebanese banks,” the conglomerate said in a statement on Wednesday.
Al Habtoor said it has invested close to $1 billion in Lebanon. These investments covered various sectors, including funds placed within the Lebanese banking system, luxury hotels affiliated with Hilton Hotels and Resorts, a shopping mall, a 100,000 square metre leisure destination called Habtoor Land, and other property ventures.
The family-owned business, with interests in the property, hospitality, automotive, insurance, education and publishing sectors, in April announced plans to reopen a prominent five-storey mall in Beirut, which shut in March 2020 due to the “societal and economic” impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Lebanon has also failed to secure a safe and sound environment for Al Habtoor Group’s businesses and investments. As a result of Lebanon’s actions, Al Habtoor Group has incurred and continues to incur significant losses and damages,” the statement added.
Al Habtoor Group, which is represented by the global law firm White & Case, said it aims to actively pursue its rights both domestically and internationally.
By officially notifying the various government bodies in Lebanon about the dispute at the start of January, Al Habtoor Group initiated a six-month “cooling-off period under the UAE-Lebanon Treaty”, it said.
If, within this six-month time frame, the dispute remains unresolved and the claims made by the conglomerate are not addressed, the group reserves the right to initiate legal actions, both domestically and internationally, against Lebanon as per the provisions outlined in the treaty, it added.