Germany confirms probe into former Lebanon central bank chief Salameh

Prosecutors say Riad Salameh, the bank’s governor from 1993 to 2023, is being investigated for money laundering and other crimes.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
Lebanon's former Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Prosecutors in Germany have confirmed they are investigating Lebanon’s former central bank chief for money laundering and other crimes and have issued an arrest warrant for him.

Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s central bank from 1993 to 2023, is being investigated together with his brother Raja and other suspects, the Munich public prosecutor’s office confirmed on Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported.

Salameh and the other suspects are being investigated on charges including forgery, money laundering and embezzlement, the prosecutor’s office said.

The brothers have denied the charges.

Salameh, 73, is also being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon’s central bank to the detriment of the Lebanese state and laundering the funds abroad.

Munich’s public prosecutor’s office said part of the sum was routed to Europe via a letterbox company in the British Virgin Islands and invested in real estate, including in Germany.

In an operation with partner authorities from France and Luxembourg, three commercial properties in Munich and Hamburg with a total value of about 28 million euros ($30.3m) were confiscated, the prosecutor’s office said.

In addition, shares in a Dusseldorf-based property company worth about 7 million euros ($7.5m) were secured.

Last year, France issued an arrest warrant for Salameh, and Interpol issued a red notice for the then-governor.

Alleged crimes

Salameh’s 30-year term as central bank chief came to an end in July.

He began his tenure as governor in 1993, three years after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war came to an end. It was a time when reconstruction loans and aid were pouring into the country, and Salameh was widely celebrated for his role in Lebanon’s recovery.

But he resigned from his post a wanted man in Europe and accused by many in Lebanon of being responsible for the country’s financial crisis that began in mid-2019.

Many financial experts saw him as an architect of a house of cards that crumbled as Lebanon’s supply of dollars dried up and after decades of rampant corruption and mismanagement from Lebanon’s ruling parties.

The crisis has pulverised the Lebanese pound and wiped out the savings of many Lebanese as hard currency ran out at the banks.

For his part, Salameh has repeatedly denied the allegations against him and insisted that his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties and investments.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies