(Photo credit: Reuters/Dalati & Nohra)
Lebanese Internal Security Forces have carried out a raid on one of the private properties belonging to Central Bank (Banque du Liban) Governor Riad Salameh in pursuance of a subpoena for the embattled Central Bank chief to appear before a court.
The raid was executed on the night of 21 June. However, as in previous arrest attempts, Salameh was nowhere to be found and the raid was unsuccessful.
The subpoena has been active since February this year, when it was issued by Judge Ghada Aoun in an attempt to question Salameh in the ongoing investigation into corruption and illicit transfer of funds abroad by both the Central Bank and major Lebanese commercial banks.
Reuters reached out to Salameh for a comment about this recent raid, but did not receive a response. The Central Bank head denies the charges of illicit enrichment that were slapped against him by Judge Aoun earlier this year.
Salameh’s brother, Raja, was also charged with illicit enrichment and sent to jail for several months before being released on bail on 12 May.
Top Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat referred the case against the Central Bank governor to the public prosecutor’s office in Beirut on 9 June and requested that formal charges be brought against Riad Salameh.
According to the official, the charges against Riad Salameh, his brother Raja, and other associates include embezzlement of public funds, illicit enrichment, tax evasion, and fraud.
Riad Salameh – who has led the Central Bank for 30 years – has repeatedly failed to show up for questioning, and has evaded multiple attempts to arrest him, due in large part to US protection, specifically the direct intervention of US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea.
Salameh and his brother have gone as far as to sue the Lebanese state over what they allege are “grave mistakes” made during the investigation, including bias and the violation of banking secrecy laws.
An investigation into the activities of Riad Salameh by The Cradle columnist Léa Azzi identified the financial policies that Salameh employed at the behest of the US in order to implement its “maximum pressure” policy.
The “maximum pressure” policy established by Riad Salameh at the Central Bank was to deliberately cause an economic downturn in Lebanon in order to blame it on Hezbollah and its allies.
“Since 1997 to date, Salameh has personally taken all the measures and made all the decisions that led to Lebanon’s economic collapse. These include fixing the exchange rate, borrowing US dollars from the Banque du Liban, and luring Lebanese banks to bring in deposits from correspondent banks abroad and place them in the Banque du Liban with high interest rates.” – Léa Azzi
Azzi also authored an investigation for The Cradle into the illicit actions of Lebanese commercial banks and how their actions have led to the compounding economic crises affecting Lebanese citizens.
The illicit transfer of billions of dollars abroad by the Central Bank and commercial banks, greatly reduced the already dwindling foreign currency reserves needed to provide necessary services, such as subsidies for food, fuel, electricity, and medicines, and contributed to the 2019 financial collapse.
Due to lack of domestic production in a heavily import-dependent economy, Lebanon could not bring in as much foreign currency into its coffers as it spent, resulting in a huge trade deficit.
The Lebanese lira steadily inflated against the US dollar, hitting a record 33,500 liras per dollar on 24 May from its original rate of 1,500 in late 2019, a case of triple-digit hyperinflation.
In a report released on 11 May, the UN 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 reads.