BEIRUT — Lebanon’s powerful Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh was charged in absentia with corruption and ordered to be detained after failing to show up Wednesday at a hearing before a local judge alongside European investigators in a money laundering case, judicial officials told The Associated Press.
Salameh is currently being investigated in a multinational probe over the embezzlement of more than $300 million from the bank between 2002 and 2015.
Judge Helena Iskandar, representing the Lebanese state, also charged Salameh’s brother and his assistant in the same case.
The 73-year-old governor, who has occupied his position for nearly three decades, is facing multiple probes stemming from allegations of illegal enrichment and money laundering, both domestically and abroad. He denies any wrongdoing. In a memo submitted by Salameh’s attorney to the prosecutor general that was seen by the Lebanese news outlet LBCI, the governor has refused to appear at the European-led hearing as he considers it a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. The hearing was postponed to Thursday and according to Salameh’s attorney, the governor will attend.
Lebanon is currently grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades. The country’s ruling political elite, including Salameh, has been blamed for the country’s economic collapse. Meanwhile, bickering among political rivals has hindered the reforms required by international financial institutions for Lebanon to receive loans that could pull the country out of its crisis.
During a Tuesday meeting in Beirut with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the World Bank’s regional Vice President Ferid Belhaj has set three conditions for the bank to reconsider financing the country’s dilapidated electricity sector. A statement by Mikati’s office quoted Belhaj as saying that Lebanon needs to audit its state electricity company, activate its newly announced regulatory authority and recover unpaid provision costs.
Since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s, Lebanon has endured regular power outages due to the mismanagement of the electricity sector. The crisis further deteriorated with the outbreak of the financial crisis in October 2019. A recent report by Human Rights Watch has pointed a finger at the Lebanese authorities and alleged corruption for the worsening crisis.