(Photo credit: Reuters)
On 21 March, Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun charged the head of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, with “illicit enrichment,” just days after his brother Raja was detained after a court hearing during which he was slapped with the same charge.
Judge Aoun charged Salameh in absentia after, yet again, failing to show up for a court hearing. The charge comes reportedly in relation to the purchase and rental of an apartment in Paris.
Aoun had been investigating an apartment in Paris that for over a decade has been rented by the Central Bank at an inflated rate, and which was reportedly being used as a back-up server room.
The apartment, located on the Champs-Elysées, had been officially leased by the Central Bank as a ‘reserve center’ in the event that the bank would no longer be able to operate from its headquarters in Beirut’s Hamra district, or its secondary headquarters in Bikfaya, the Matn district of Mount Lebanon.
A raid on the apartment by French police on 21 October of last year revealed that it had been rented by the Central Bank for $500,000 a year.
Weeks before the raid, the International Consortium of International Journalists (ICIJ) released the Pandora Papers, a collection of leaked documents exposing the offshore assets of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful.
Both Salameh and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati were among those named in the leaks.
Judge Aoun had previously issued a travel ban against Salameh, as well as a warrant for his arrest. However, when the warrant was carried out, Internal Security Forces (ISF) reportedly interfered, protecting Salameh from being captured, a move which was likely caused by the direct intervention of US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea.
Salameh has been directly accused of money laundering and embezzlement by a number of Lebanese officials, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun, but has denied all allegations against him.
The Central Bank Governor is also currently under investigation for corruption and money laundering in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland.
On 18 March, Raja Salameh’s lawyer said the charge against him was false, and described the situation as “media speculation without any evidence.”
In response to the charge issued against him, Salameh told Reuters on 21 March that he ordered an audit which indicates that no public funds were used in the accumulation of his wealth, denying the charge of illicit enrichment.