The Cradle
Son of Lebanon's central bank governor moved millions of dollars abroad, despite restrictions
In 2019, a financial crisis led Lebanese banks to block the withdrawals or transfer in US dollars by Lebanese depositors
By News Desk - May 13 2022
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File image. Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during a news conference at Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon, 11 November, 2019. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

While banking restrictions blocked ordinary citizens from accessing their savings, the son of Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor, was able to transfer over $6.5 million out of Lebanon.

The details were released through leaked documents on 13 May by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists.

Most bank customers in Lebanon were prevented from withdrawing or transferring their money in US dollars in late 2019, But the restrictions were never made official, meaning that well-connected people, including Nady Salameh, the son of Lebanon’s long-serving central bank governor, could still access and move their deposits.

The documents reveal that “four transfers, worth between $1 million and $2 million each, left Nady Salameh’s accounts at Lebanon’s AM Bank between 1 October and 2 December, 2019.” The statements show that the transfers were moved overseas, but not to which bank or country.

Nady Salameh was also able to convert billions of Lebanese pounds to US dollars at the official exchange rate, even as the street value of the currency collapsed, saving him hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the documents.

Meanwhile, central bank chief Riad Salameh is facing judicial investigations in Lebanon and in five European countries over the alleged embezzlement of at least $330 million in public funds by him and his younger brother, Raja.

The central bank’s special investigation commission handed over information on Raja Salameh’s nine Lebanese bank accounts to Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat, the two judicial sources said.

The delivery of the full information would mark a significant breakthrough in the investigations after months of delay.

Riad Salameh had earlier stated that the bank commission, which he heads, had agreed to hand over the information and that he had stepped aside from chairing the body as far as his case was concerned, “so that there is no conflict of interest.”

The UN has accused Lebanon’s government and central bank of “human rights violations” for creating the conditions for an acute economic crisis that has plunged over 80 percent of the population below the poverty line.

“The Lebanese State, including its Central Bank, is responsible for human rights violations, including the unnecessary immiseration of the population, that have resulted from this man-made crisis,” the UN report, released on 11 May, reads.

Lebanon’s economic implosion has also seen the local currency lose more than 90 percent of its value and food prices increase elevenfold. The economic situation has exacerbated a crippling energy crisis, with blackouts that can last for up to 23 hours a day.