(Photo credit: Reuters)
Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on 10 January that Lebanon’s embattled US-backed Central Bank chief, Riad Salameh, has requested guarantees that he will not be arrested following the investigations of the European judicial mission, part of which arrived in the country on 9 January.
According to the newspaper, the launching of the European investigation has been postponed until next week “for special reasons related to the status of one of the … officials.” It added that a day earlier, on 9 January, the German embassy in Beirut made preparations to receive the first group of members from Berlin’s delegation and that the rest of the members would arrive later. The French embassy has also made arrangements to receive Paris’ delegation early next week, it said.
Informed sources have told the newspaper, the report states, that “the list of those summoned to investigations is long and … includes [Salameh], his brother Raja, his assistant Marianne Howayek and his son Nadi,” as well as a number of his assistants and bank managers.
Salameh’s brother, Raja, stands accused of aiding the Central Bank’s embezzlement of millions in public funds through his company, Forry Associates. He was arrested by the Lebanese authorities in March and was released on bail a month later.
It is worth noting that the European countries involved did not request permission from the Lebanese state to carry out the investigation, and instead, simply informed them of the intention.
In light of this, the report says that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has discussed with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati the issue of opening the door to “international judicial guardianship,” and that Mikati replied by telling him that he is in cooperation with Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat to prevent the European mission from bypassing Lebanon’s judiciary.
The sources also denied speculation that Mikati had promised Salameh that he would not be interrogated.
The central bank governor has evaded capture before, and has failed to appear for questioning following judicial summons.
They also claimed that Salameh fears that he will be subject “to immediate measures” after the investigation. He was reportedly informed that foreign judicial delegations have no power to arrest him, to which he responded by requesting “firm guarantees” that the arrest warrant issued by Judge Ghada Aoun is not carried out by Lebanon’s security services.
In February, it was revealed that Lebanon’s US ambassador, Dorothy Shea, had pressured Mikati to block the subpoena issued against Salameh.
Salameh’s leadership of the Central Bank is supported by a number of political forces in Lebanon, as well as by Washington, marking the reason behind why his apprehension has been so difficult.
The arrival of the European judicial mission represents the continuation of the broader European investigation against the Central Bank and its chief, which began in 2020 in Switzerland and soon after spread to courts in France, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg.