Lebanon bank chief turns up for hours-long European probe

Lebanon bank chief turns up for hours-long European probe
Lebanon's central bank chief showed up for the first time on Thursday before European investigators as part of an anti-corruption probe.
3 min read
There was a heavy security presence in and around Beirut's justice palace where Salameh was being questioned [Getty]

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

Salameh and his legal team, including a French lawyer, arrived at Beirut's justice palace on Thursday morning and the hearing began soon after, the judicial official told AFP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

An AFP correspondent reported a heavy security presence in and around the building.

Salameh, 72, is part of the Lebanese political elite widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and which the World Bank has dubbed one of the planet's 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 in the job.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) 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 had submitted some 100 questions to Lebanese judge Charbel Abu Samra, who for procedural reasons carried out 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 the central bank chief could face several days of questioning.

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Salameh had been summoned to appear on Wednesday but failed to show up, alleging that "the presence of international judges in Lebanon and the investigation into the financial matters is in conflict with national sovereignty".

The judiciary rejected his claim 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.