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Lebanon charges central bank governor with illicit enrichment

March 21, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Security forces take measures as people intent to march toward the parliament building and Association of Banks after gathered outside the Central Bank of Lebanon to protest the restrictions on foreign currency deposits in banks since the economic crisis begins in Oct. 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon on 6 October 2021. [Hussam Shbaro – Anadolu Agency]

A Lebanese judge today charged central bank Governor Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment, adding to the number of graft investigations he already faces, Reuters reports.

Judge Ghada Aoun told the news agency the case related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank.

Salameh denied the charge when contacted by Reuters, saying he had ordered an audit which showed public funds were not a source of his wealth.

Salameh, 71, has been governor of Lebanon’s central bank for nearly three decades. His tenure has faced increased scrutiny since the financial system imploded in 2019 in a collapse that has impoverished many Lebanese.

Judge Aoun said Salameh had not attended a hearing scheduled today and she had charged him in absentia. She had referred the case to an investigative judge and it would be up to him as to whether to issue an arrest warrant, she said.

Last week, Aoun charged Salameh’s brother Raja in the same case and ordered him arrested, since when he has been in detention.

READ: Lebanon PM says some judges stoking tension within country

On Friday, Raja Salameh’s lawyer said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded. He called the evidence “media speculation without any evidence”.

Riad Salameh also faces other investigations in Lebanon and at least five European countries including a Swiss inquiry over alleged aggravated money laundering at the central bank (BDL) involving $300 million in gains by a company owned by Raja Salameh.

He is a key member of a Lebanese government team that has been in talks with the IMF in the hope of negotiating a rescue deal, widely seen as the only way for the country to chart a path out of the meltdown.

Salameh has continued to enjoy political backing of some of the most powerful people in Lebanon, including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Critics of Judge Aoun accuse her of acting in line with the political agenda of President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement, which is critical of Salameh and wants his removal.

She denies this, saying she is implementing the law.