Lebanese PM shows support for central bank governor charged with illicit enrichment
The news comes amid reports that the PM's office was trying to influence the judiciary to acquit Riad Salameh
By News Desk - March 24 2022

(Photo credit: Dalati & Nohra)

During a cabinet session on 23 March, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati proposed an invitation to Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh to attend a future cabinet meeting, in an apparent show of support for the official who has been charged with illicit enrichment.

Salameh, who has been at the helm of the central bank for three decades, is under investigation for money laundering and corruption in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland.

Mikati’s proposal was made after “much discussion on the matter of the state’s relationship with the banks,” Information Minister Ziad Al Makary said, in reference to the current standoff between several Lebanese banks and the prosecutors investigating their role in the economic collapse of 2019.

Lebanon’s central bank, Banque du Liban, as well as over half a dozen major banks, are currently under investigation by the Lebanese judiciary for illicit transfers of billions of dollars in foreign currency outside the country.

This has led to a freeze on the assets of implicated banks as well as to a travel ban on their top executives.

As part of this investigation, the brother of the central bank chief, Raja Salameh, was detained last week for allegedly aiding in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in public funds through concealed commissions that were received by Forry Associates, a company he owns.

During a court hearing on 24 March, Salameh was denied release, despite the alleged pressure being exerted by the prime minister’s office on the judiciary.

Investigating Judge Nicolas Mansour made the decision pending the provision of documents that show the source of funds used by Salameh to buy the properties under investigation.

Nonetheless, according to sources who spoke with Lebanese news outlet Al-Mahatta, Mansour has been downplaying the importance of the charges against the central bank chief, trying to undermine the $300 million Salameh allegedly embezzled by comparing them to the $80 billion squandered by the banking sector.

For his part, the central bank governor has so far refused to attend any of the hearings in the case against him.

The prosecutor in charge of the central bank investigation, Judge Ghada Aoun, previously issued a travel ban against Riad Salameh, as well as a warrant for his arrest.

However, when the warrant was carried out, Internal Security Forces (ISF) reportedly interfered and protected Salameh from being arrested.

This move was revealed to have likely been caused by the direct intervention of the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, with the help of the Prime Minister’s office.

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