Lebanon gets Interpol red notice for central bank chief

Lebanon gets Interpol red notice for central bank chief
Lebanon's Interpol office receives red notice requesting Lebanese central bank chief Riad Salameh be arrested and handed over to French judicial authorities.
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Lebanon central bank chief Riad Salameh was issued an arrest warrant this week [Getty]

Lebanon has received an Interpol red notice requesting the arrest of central bank governor Riad Salameh after a French magistrate issued a warrant this week, a judicial official said Friday.

Salameh, 72, has been the target of a series of judicial investigations both at home and abroad on allegations including fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

French investigators suspect that during some three decades as central bank boss, Salameh misused public funds to accumulate real estate and banking assets concealed through a complex and fraudulent financial network.

"On Thursday evening, Lebanon's Interpol office received... the red notice requesting Salameh be arrested and handed over to French judicial authorities," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

An Interpol red notice is not an international arrest warrant but asks authorities worldwide to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions.

A similar notice was issued after France sought the arrest of former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, who made an audacious 2019 escape from Japan while on bail and remains an international fugitive living in Lebanon.

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Lebanon does not extradite its nationals.

In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg froze assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) believed to belong to Salameh.

On Tuesday, Salameh failed to appear for questioning by French investigators who want to know how he amassed sizeable assets across Europe.

Salameh would be "put on trial in Lebanon" if the local judicial authorities decide that the accusations of money laundering and illicit enrichment are founded, the official said.

Lebanon's top prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat, is expected to summon the central bank governor next week to examine whether "the evidence against him is sufficient to charge and try him", the official added.

Salameh, who has been under investigation in France since July 2021, rejects the accusations and continues to serve as central bank governor. His mandate ends in July.

He said Thursday that he had a "clear conscience", in comments to Saudi television channel Al-Hadath, his first since the arrest warrant was issued.

"The accusations against me are unfounded. If a trial proves that I am guilty as charged, I will resign."

Lebanese officials have been largely silent since the French warrant on Tuesday, though some opposition lawmakers have called for Salameh to be dismissed.