(Photo credit: Reuters/Dalati & Nohra)
Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat informed the Ministry of Justice in Lebanon on 30 March of his intention to freeze the overseas assets of Central Bank (Banque du Liban) Governor Riad Salameh.
This move comes shortly after Salameh’s assets were frozen by five European countries, which are investigating him for embezzlement and money laundering.
Oueidat is seeking to prohibit movement on all assets belonging to Salameh and Salameh’s partners in Swiss, French, Belgian, German and Luxembourg banks.
Helena Iskandar, head of the Justice Ministry Cases Authority, stated that she had requested the finance minister of Lebanon to appoint lawyers to apply a freeze on Salameh’s overseas assets, but had never received a response.
In a statement to Reuters, Iskandar said: “If we don’t do this, then the states prosecuting the governor could potentially appropriate these funds. Should allegations against him be proven correct, these funds are the right of the Lebanese state and should be repatriated.”
The current finance minister of Lebanon, Youssef Khalil, had previously been employed at the Central Bank of Lebanon. The finance ministry declined a request from Reuters to issue a comment.
Riad Salameh has been the focal point of investigation over financial corruption and the illicit transfer of billions of dollars abroad, in addition to his policies as Central Bank governor being a primary cause for the 2019 economic and monetary collapse.
Salameh was recently charged with illicit enrichment by a Lebanese court.
Judge Ghada 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 reportedly interfered, protecting Salameh from being captured, a move likely caused by the direct intervention of US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea.
His brother, Raja Salameh, was recently arrested after being charged with crimes of illicit enrichment and embezzlement, with his bail set at $20 million.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has defended the controversial Central Bank governor. Mikati himself was found guilty of illicit enrichment, along with Bank Audi, in late 2019.
Lebanon’s current economic crisis has resulted in a steep reduction of purchasing power for the average citizen after massive hyperinflation hit the national currency. One of the main tasks of the Central Bank is to keep the national currency stable.
The annual inflation rate for Lebanon hit 215 percent in February 2022.