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Switzerland to probe Lebanon central bank governor over money laundering

Swiss officials have opened an investigation into Lebanon’s central bank governor over allegations of money laundering.

January 20, 2021 at 1:46 pm

Swiss officials have opened an investigation into Lebanon’s central bank governor over allegations of money laundering.

Riad Salameh, 70, is under investigation for “possible embezzlement” and “aggravated money laundering” from the Lebanese central bank, the Financial Times reported.

The investigation was launched at the request of the Lebanese government, which is probing reports that billions of dollars left Lebanon despite a ban on overseas transfers, according to Associated Press (AP). 

The investigation will centre on overseas transfers made by the governor and his close associates, but Swiss authorities have not yet confirmed if Salameh is the subject of investigation specifically.

Salameh said that the allegations that money had been moved abroad, “whether in his name, his brother’s name or his assistant’s name” were “fake news,” in a statement issued by the Central Bank.

The statement was issued after Lebanon’s justice minister said Swiss judicial authorities requested cooperation in the probe.

Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm confirmed she had filed a request with the public prosecutor to cooperate with the investigation, according to Reuters.

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Salameh was previously accused of financial misdemeanours in a report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and its Lebanese partner Daraj, in August last year.

The report claims Salameh and his family own $100m of assets worldwide including real estate in Germany, Belgium, and the UK, and have used several overseas shell companies to illegitimately amass wealth.

Salameh has recently come under fire for his handling of Lebanon’s financial crisis, which has seen the country’s currency, the Lebanese pound, lose more than 80 per cent of its value.

The government defaulted on a $1.2m Eurobond debt in March and started talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure a rescue package, but negotiations stalled.

In an effort to stem Lebanon’s economic collapse, banks imposed stringent capital controls, limiting account holders to withdrawing as little as $100 per week, and barred overseas transfers.

However, during the chaos, reports emerged that wealthy Lebanese, including bank owners and government officials, were still able to transfer capital abroad.

In February 2020, local daily Al-Akhbar reported that five bank owners had transferred $2.3bln overseas since the previous October.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed Salameh for the multiple crises, but Salameh has repeatedly defended his role.

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