Lebanon’s central bank chief appears before corruption hearing

Riad Salameh had previously rejected the presence of European investigators at the hearing, causing it to be postponed.

Lebanon Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh
Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has been charged with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Lebanese central bank chief Riad Salameh has appeared for the first time before a European delegation visiting Beirut as part of investigations into his personal wealth, judicial officials have said.

Salameh and his legal team, including a French lawyer, arrived at the Beirut Palace of Justice on Thursday morning and the hearing began soon after.

He had been scheduled to appear at the hearing on Wednesday, but refused to attend, arguing that the presence of the European investigators was “in conflict with [Lebanon’s] national sovereignty”.

Salameh, 72, is part of the Lebanese political elite widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and that the World Bank has dubbed one of the worst in recent history.

He faces allegations of crimes including embezzlement in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad, with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during three decades on the job.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($127m) in March last year in a move linked to a French probe into Salameh’s personal wealth.

The European investigation is looking into allegations of financial misconduct, including possible money laundering and embezzlement.

The delegation has submitted some 100 questions to Lebanese Judge Charbel Abu Samra, who for procedural reasons will do the questioning in the presence of the European officials, a separate judicial source had previously told AFP.

Salameh is appearing “as a witness” and will not be charged or arrested, the second source said, adding that the chief of the central bank – called the Banque du Liban – could face several days of questioning.

Initial no-show

The judiciary rejected Salameh’s claim on Wednesday that the presence of the foreign investigators was a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the session was rescheduled for Thursday.

In January, the European investigators interviewed banking officials in Beirut about the transfer of funds to countries where Salameh has significant assets.

They also examined the central bank’s ties to Forry Associates Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company that listed Salameh’s brother as its beneficiary.

Forry is suspected of having brokered Lebanese treasury bonds and Eurobonds at a commission, which was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts abroad.

Salameh has rarely appeared before investigating judges, despite numerous complaints and summonses.

Last month, Lebanese authorities charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of their own investigation.

A fresh complaint was filed against him on Wednesday, including for bribery and illicit enrichment.

Source: News Agencies