Lebanon PM names possible new central bank chief after Riad Salameh

Lebanon PM names possible new central bank chief after Riad Salameh
3 min read
08 June, 2023
Wassim Mansouri, the current vice governor of the central bank, was named as an interim successor to Riad Salameh.
Civil society activists said that they were skeptical a new central bank chief would make any positive changes to banking policies in the country. [Getty]

Lebanese PM Najib Mikati on Wednesday named Central Bank Vice Governor Wassim Mansouri as a potential successor to Riad Salameh, the current governor wanted by INTERPOL on embezzlement charges.

Mikati said that Mansouri was set to succeed Salameh in July when the latter’s term as head of the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) is up.

"We have been in contact with Wassim Mansouri, who is preparing to assume the responsibilities of governor of BDL," Mikati said to the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

He added that it was "normal" for the governor's powers to be transferred to the vice governor at the end of the former’s term, according to the country's financial laws.

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Salameh, who has been the BDL governor for the last three decades, is under investigation in several European countries for suspected money laundering and embezzlement.

Both France and Germany have set international arrest warrants for Salameh after he refused to show up for questioning.

Salameh's tenure has been dogged with accusations of corruption and he is accused of being behind the financial engineering which caused Lebanon’s economic collapse in fall 2019.

Banks froze all accounts during the financial crisis, in effect confiscating the savings of millions of Lebanese.

Critics have accused Salameh of creating a giant "Ponzi scheme" with Lebanon’s banking sector, aiding the embezzlement of depositors' money. Salameh denies any wrongdoing.

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Despite the pending multiplying investigations against Salameh, the Lebanese political class has thus far resisted ousting the Central Bank governor.

It was only after the issuing of an INTERPOL red notice on 17 May that MPs began to discuss dismissing Salameh as the BDL chief.

Despite the changing of BDL governors, members of Lebanese civil society say they have doubts policies will be made to protect depositors' rights.

"I don't think that Mansouri will change the way things are being handled because he's already a board member [of BDL]," Dina Abu Zour, a lawyer with the Lebanese Depositors' Union, told The New Arab.

Despite the rhetoric in support of depositors' rights, Lebanese politicians have not passed a single law that gives people access to their savings since the beginning of the financial crisis.

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Neither have any bankers or officials been held accountable for their role in the massive economic meltdown.

"I'm not sure that the political class will allow him to do something regarding accountability," Abu Zour said.

Mansouri is likely to be appointed as an interim governor until Lebanon forms a new government and can elect a permanent BDL chief.

Lebanon needs to first appoint a new president before it can form a new government.

The country has been without a president since November 2022. Parliament is set to vote on the top two presidential candidates, Jihad Azour and Sleiman Frangieh, on 14 June.