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Lebanon’s bank chief Salameh in hot seat as French judge arrives in Beirut

The French judge will question Riad Salameh over the central bank governor’s alleged involvement in financial crimes.
Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh gestures during an interview with AFP at his office in the capital Beirut on December 20, 2021. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT — A French judge was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Monday to question the country’s powerful central bank governor Riad Salameh over a number of alleged money laundering and financial crimes, the European Observatory for the Integrity of Lebanon announced in a statement.

Judge Aude Buresi will interrogate Riad Salameh in the presence of First Investigative Judge of Beirut Charbel Abou Samra in a hearing set for Wednesday.

Salameh, his brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Hoayek were charged last month with embezzlement, money laundering, illicit enrichment, fraud and tax evasion. The charges are part of a domestic probe into Salameh’s assets launched in 2021 by the request of Switzerland, which is investigating $300 million in money transfers by the governor and his brother between 2002 and 2015.

Salameh has occupied his role at the central bank for three decades. The 73-year-old governor denies any wrongdoing and has refused to attend any hearing or questioning.

In January, a European delegation headed to Beirut to begin the investigation process. According to sources who spoke to Reuters, the European investigators will return to the country on Monday and be allowed to attend the interrogation later this week.

Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades. Since October 2019, the local currency has lost more than 90% of its value while banks are imposing informal capital controls and limiting cash withdrawals in foreign currency. Several in the country blame Salameh, who was once praised for keeping the local financial sector afloat, for the country’s current economic collapse.

The governor had announced in an interview with Asharq TV in February that he will not seek another term after his current one ends in July. But there are rumors that his term could be extended as the country’s political crisis deepens. Lebanon has been without a president since October 2022 and a caretaker government with limited powers is currently managing the country. Since then, the heavily divided parliament has failed more than 10 times to elect a new head of state.

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