Lebanon aid chief arrested on corruption charges: judicial sources

Lebanon's High Relief Council (HRC) Secretary General Ibrahim Bashir attends an interview at his office in Beirut, May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The head of Lebanon's governmental aid body, through which millions of dollars are funneled, and his wife have been arrested on embezzlement charges, judicial sources said on Monday.

The criminal investigation against High Relief Council (HRC) Secretary General Ibrahim Bashir comes as Lebanon appeals for direct aid to help it provide for more than 800,000 Syrian refugees who have flooded into the small Mediterranean state to escape civil war.

Bashir has denied media reports that he embezzled $10 million of public funds, calling the accusations politically motivated, LBCI TV reported. Reuters was unable to contact him for comment. The judiciary made no official statement.

Lebanon has been pleading with international donors to help it fund efforts to give sanctuary to the largest number of refugees from the civil war. In January, it asked foreign donors for $180 million.

Last month, Lebanon's caretaker finance minister, Mohammed Safadi, said Lebanon would need $2.6 billion over a three-year period to help it overcome the impact of the Syria crisis.

On top of the refugee influx, Lebanon is struggling with a collapse in tourism revenue and a spillover of violence from Syria, including street fighting in the northern city of Tripoli and a wave of car bombings.

The HRC works closely with humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR. The HRC is presided over by the prime minister and made up of members of various government ministries.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Oliver Holmes; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)