Prosecutors for Europe check books in Beirut

According to some unnamed sources, European prosecutors in Beirut have looked into bank transfer records relating to a probe into whether Riad Salameh, the head of Lebanon’s central bank, and his brother stole public cash.

Similar to a Swiss investigation into the matter, prosecutors from Germany, France, and Luxembourg are pursuing a cross-border money laundering investigation and believe Riad Salameh and his brother Raja stole more than $300 million from the central bank between 2002 and 2015.

In a separate but connected investigation, Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun accused Riad Salameh of illegal gain in March.

Both the governor of the central bank and his brother refute the allegations. According to Riad Salameh, he is being used as a scapegoat for Lebanon’s severe financial crisis, which broke out in 2019.

According to European officials and French court documents, the European prosecutors, who have not yet brought any formal accusations, believe the two individuals used some of the money to purchase real estate holdings in France and around Europe.

In connection with the investigation, accounts and property worth $130 million have been frozen across Europe, according to European officials and French court documents.

As revealed by their attorneys, the seizure of assets in France has been contested by the Salameh brothers. The lawsuit is being heard by a French court.

Those with knowledge of the situation have revealed that the documents seen by the visiting European prosecutors included bank records indicating money transactions made by Raja Salameh through Lebanese banks.

According to European sources, this would be the first time the prosecutors have access to the transfer information that could be used to follow the money’s path. They said that until now, Lebanese prosecutors doing a parallel investigation had not disclosed their conclusions.

The banking records were made available to the Lebanese prosecutors in May. The information couldn’t be released at the time, according to two Lebanese court sources and a European official, since Riad Salameh had filed a legal complaint against the magistrate who was conducting their investigation.

Lebanon’s Oueidat also noted that the magistrate was recently removed from the case, enabling for the resumption of judicial collaboration with the Europeans. A new judge would soon be appointed, according to Oueidat.

Ghassan Oueidat, Lebanon’s top prosecutor, declined to answer when asked which documents the European prosecutors had looked at.

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