Lebanon to quiz embattled central bank chief: Judicial source

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge has summoned central bank governor Riad Salameh for questioning next week, a judicial official said Monday, as the crisis-hit country advances an embezzlement probe parallel to European investigations.

Salameh’s brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoayek have also been summoned in the domestic probe launched in 2021, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to discuss the matter with the media.

They were charged in Lebanon last month with embezzlement and money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax evasion, which the Salameh brothers have denied.

The official said judge Charbel Abu Samra “has set the date of March 15 to question” the three suspects.

Lebanon opened its probe following a request for assistance from Switzerland’s public prosecutor probing more than $300 million in fund movements by Riad Salameh and his brother.

The 72-year-old central bank governor is the subject of several domestic and international investigations over suspicions of money laundering and illicit enrichment.

He denies all accusations against him and has rarely appeared before the judiciary, despite numerous complaints and summonses.

Last month, Swiss media reported that 12 banks in the European country had received a large part of the money Salameh is alleged to have embezzled — estimated at up to $500 million.

In January, investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg interviewed banking officials in Beirut about the transfer of funds to countries where Salameh has significant assets.

They also examined the central bank’s ties to Forry Associates Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company that listed Raja Salameh as its beneficiary.

Forry is suspected of having brokered Lebanese treasury bonds and Eurobonds at a commission, which was then allegedly transferred to his bank accounts abroad.

European investigators, who are set to return to Lebanon this month, have been looking into private accounts in Raja Salameh’s name, as well as the transfer of funds to accounts belonging to the two brothers abroad.

But a separate Lebanese judicial source told AFP the European investigators’ work might be limited in Lebanon since local charges have been levelled against the bank chief in the same case.

Salameh, who has headed the central bank since 1993, is part of the Lebanese political class widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis in Lebanon that began in late 2019. – AFP