Lebanon, EU partner in Central Bank probe

Lebanese authorities and a European judicial team agreed to share information on their separate investigations into the country’s Central Bank governor, Riad Salameh, and his associates. The announcement was made on Tuesday by a European delegation from France, Germany, and Luxembourg, which is conducting an ongoing probe into the governor and his associates over several financial crimes. The European delegation’s third visit to Lebanon saw them interrogate suspects and witnesses, including some of the governor’s close associates, on allegations of embezzlement, money laundering, and illicit enrichment.

The governor’s brother, Raja Salameh, was scheduled to attend a hearing on Tuesday but did not show up, citing illness. Both the governor and his brother have been accused of multiple crimes, including using commercial banks to siphon off public money. The European delegation froze more than $130 million in assets linked to the investigation in March 2022. France is also conducting a separate investigation into the chairman of Lebanon’s AM Bank, Marwan Kheireddine, on charges of money laundering.

In March, the European delegation questioned Riad Salameh for eight hours, mainly about the Central Bank’s assets and investments outside Lebanon. Among the issues raised were a Paris apartment and Forry Associates Ltd, a brokerage firm owned by Raja Salameh, who is scheduled to appear before French prosecutors in mid-May. Salameh has denied all allegations against him, saying his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments.

Lebanon’s public prosecutor, Raja Hamoush, charged Riad Salameh, his brother, and their close associate Marianne Hoayek with corruption in late February. The charges include embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money laundering, and violation of tax laws. Salameh, who has held his post for almost 30 years, was once lauded as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability. However, since the economic crisis erupted in 2019, many have criticized the governor, saying he precipitated the meltdown. Three-quarters of the Mediterranean country’s population of 6 million have been plunged into poverty due to the crisis. Salameh’s term as governor is set to expire in July, and although there is speculation that the authorities may renew it, he has announced his plan to step down.

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