Lebanon central bank governor skips corruption hearing, faces new charges
Lebanon's embattled central bank governor Riad Salameh did not attend a corruption probe hearing on Wednesday held by a local judge alongside European investigators after procedural objections by Salameh's lawyer, two sources told Reuters.
Salameh is being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries over alleged embezzlement of public funds. He denies the charges and says they are part of an attempt to scapegoat him for Lebanon's deepening financial crisis.
Lebanese authorities last month charged him with a slew of financial crimes and set a first hearing for Wednesday. French and German investigators who arrived in Beirut this week to pursue their own probe had been told they could attend the hearing, two source told Reuters earlier.
But on Wednesday, Salameh's lawyer arrived at the justice palace without him and objected to the presiding judge over the European officials' presence, a senior judicial source and a second source with knowledge of the developments said.
"Salameh's lawyer attended and submitted an explanatory memo in which he considered that summoning him to a European investigation session is a violation of the sovereignty of the Lebanese judiciary under the International Anti-Corruption Convention," the senior judicial source said.
The judicial source said that would allow the state to postpone any mutual legal assistance with foreign investigations. The presiding judge delayed the hearing until Thursday.
"There are procedural issues to be solved," another source close to Salameh told Reuters.
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Also on Wednesday, the Lebanese state, represented by the justice ministry's cases authority, filed charges against Salameh, his brother and an assistant and called for their arrest and their assets to be frozen, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Helene Iskandar, head of the cases authority, told Reuters the move aimed to preserve the Lebanese state's right to claim any assets obtained as the result of illicit activity to the state's detriment.
Last year, prosecutors in Germany said Salameh was a suspect in a case that led to the freezing of some 120 million euros ($132 million) of Lebanese assets .
The properties and bank accounts, linked to five people suspected of embezzling some $330 million and 5 million euros between 2002 and 2021, were seized in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium.
Salameh, 72, has been central bank governor for 30 years and says he is not interested in staying on once his latest six-year term ends in July.
His departure will mark a milestone in the financial meltdown which resulted from decades of profligate spending, corruption and unsustainable financial policies by leaders who have left the crisis to fester since 2019.
Salameh has worked hand-in-glove with powerful figures but sources say that some of his traditional support bases in Lebanon and abroad are starting to fray.
He was charged in a separate, smaller corruption case last year in Lebanon but has not attended those hearings. European investigators have not yet questioned him directly.