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Lebanon bank governor faces corruption allegations in France

Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh in Beirut on November 11, 2019 [JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images]
Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh in Beirut on November 11, 2019 [JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images]

An anti-corruption group has submitted a legal complaint in France against Lebanon's central bank governor over foreign investments including property he owns worth millions of euros, Reuters reported two people involved in the filing saying yesterday.

Sherpa, a non-governmental organisation that defends victims of economic crimes, said in a statement that it and a group of lawyers had filed the complaint on Friday over "suspicious" real estate purchases in France.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh told Reuters he had proved and shown documents on many occasions highlighting that the source of his wealth was acquired before he had taken up his post in 1993.

"I have also declared that my properties in France were acquired prior to being governor," he said.

Salameh's brother, son, and an associate are also named in the legal complaint, said Laura Rousseau, head of the illicit financial flows programme at Sherpa.

"We are targeting the ill-gotten gains acquired in France and more specifically we are targeting the numerous investments overseas that make the suspicious origins of his [Salameh's] fortune in France," she told Reuters.

Lebanon's financial and political elite have long been under scrutiny over allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and obstructing efforts to unlock international aid.

READ: Lebanon opens probe into central bank governor and brother

It is the latest complaint filed on suspected Lebanese corruption to authorities in Europe.

Salameh has dismissed previous corruption allegations against him as a smear campaign.

The 81-page complaint in France outlines what it says are assets, companies, and investment vehicles across Europe worth hundreds of millions of euros which it alleges Salameh, members of his family, and his associates used over years to divert funds out of Lebanon.

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

France's National Financial Prosecutor, where the complaint was filed with the Collective Association of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, was not immediately available for comment.

The complaint also lists almost 20 senior Lebanese politicians and suggests that bank owners and shareholders could also be targeted in the future.

Lebanon faces a financial crisis in which banks have blocked most transfers abroad and cut access to deposits as dollars grew scarce. The meltdown has dragged down the currency, prompted a sovereign default, and fuelled widespread poverty.

"At the end of this affair, France will have to ensure that ill-gotten funds will be returned to serve the general interest, improve the living conditions of the Lebanese, strengthen the rule of law and fight against corruption," Sherpa said.

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