Lebanese President Michel Aoun. (Photo credit: Dalati Nohra via AP)
During a wide-ranging interview published on 3 February by Al-Joumhouria, Lebanese President Michel Aoun took aim at several political figures in the country, including Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and the leader of the far-right Lebanese Forces (LF) party Samir Geagea.
Speaking in regards to Lebanon’s dire economic crisis, Aoun said he was “siding with the citizens” and does not accept that they’re being made to pay for “what the banks and the governance of the Banque du Liban have committed.”
He also highlighted that Salameh has one week to meet the requirements of forensic audit firm Alvarez and Marsal, which has been tasked since early 2020 to probe the Central Bank’s finances.
Aoun made it clear he has had enough of Salameh’s procrastination and pretexts, saying: “Everyone should know that the grace period has expired, and that time has become very precious to me, and I can no longer be patient and indulgent in wasting it … I am more serious in my position than some imagine, and I mean what I say.”
He also warned of “legal and political consequences” if the Central Bank governor once more fails to comply with the auditing firm’s demands.
Earlier this month, Salameh was hit with a subpoena by a Lebanese court to answer questions as a witness in a mismanagement probe. He is also being investigated for alleged embezzlement and money laundering in France, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.
The Lebanese president also took the chance to comment on the recent verbal attacks lobbied at him by LF leader Samir Geagea, asking: “Have I harmed anyone? Did I build a castle? Did I betray an ally or master incitement?”
“Let Samir Geagea tell us about his ‘accomplishments’. Let him have the courage to take inventory and tell us what he has achieved for the country and what are the positive projects he has implemented,” the president says, also noting that the far-right broke his promise to give former prime minister Saad Hariri the support of the LF’s base.
“All he does is incite. The Sunnis won’t forgive him nor will they support him,” Aoun went on to say, adding that political rivalry is legitimate, but “hate speech and incitement” are not.
Finally, Aoun spoke about his relationship with Hezbollah, saying: “The understanding continues, and there is no separation between us and the party,” referring to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Shia resistance movement and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in 2006.
However, the president added that while “sometimes there is coldness or stagnation” between the sides, things have not reached “the point of separation.”
He went on to call that maintaining a working relationship with Hezbollah a necessity “against internal strife and civil war.”