Case of missing Czechs may be related to organised crime: Lebanese minister

BEIRUT - The disappearance of five Czech nationals in Lebanon at the weekend may be related to organised crime and the drugs and arms trade, Lebanon's interior minister was quoted as saying by The Daily Star newspaper on Thursday.

The five men and their Lebanese driver were reported as missing in eastern Lebanon on Saturday, and their abandoned vehicle was found near Kefraya village. Prague said on Tuesday it was treating the case as a possible kidnapping but had received no information on the whereabouts of the five.

Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk was quoted by the newspaper as telling reporters in Paris on Wednesday that an investigation had begun to make headway and the issue may be related to "mafias" and the "trade of drugs and arms".

He did not give further comments, the paper said.

Machnouk was visiting his French counterpart to discuss ways to fight terrorism, his Twitter account said.

One of the missing Czechs is an attorney to Ali Fayad, a man of Lebanese origin who is in custody in the Czech Republic awaiting a decision on a U.S. extradition request, according to a Czech court.

The United States has accused Fayad of trying to sell arms and drugs to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC.

His Czech lawyer has travelled to Lebanon several times in relation to the case, according to his office.

The Lebanese driver of the vehicle is a brother of Ali Fayad and authorities believe this fact could be linked to the disappearance, a source with knowledge of the investigation said.

The legal firm representing Fayad has rejected speculation that the disappearance of the group might be linked to his case.

Two of the five missing men work for a small regional Czech TV station and were in Lebanon to shoot a documentary film, according to a colleague contacted by Reuters.

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