Lebanon central bank governor faces corruption charges

Lebanon central bank governor faces corruption charges

23 Feb 2023 ( Ghanaweb.com )

Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh has been charged with money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment, the state news agency says.

Public prosecutor Judge Raja Hamoush has also filed charges against Mr Salameh’s brother Raja and an adviser, according to the National News Agency.

The brothers deny any wrongdoing.

The judge’s move follows an 18-month investigation into allegations that they embezzled $300m (£249m) from the Banque du Liban between 2002 and 2015.

Riad Salameh – who has led the bank for 30 years – has faced intense scrutiny over his role in Lebanon’s economic collapse since 2019.

The country is experiencing one of the most severe and prolonged depressions the world has seen, with its currency losing more than 90% of its value against the dollar and the annual inflation rate soaring to 170% last year.

That has left more than 80% of the population living in poverty and struggling to afford food and medicine.

Before the crisis, Mr Salameh was widely praised for having kept the Lebanese pound stable and the banking system afloat despite years of political turmoil.

The National News Agency reported on Thursday that Judge Hamoush had charged Riad Salameh, Raja Salameh and his assistant Marianne Howayek with embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money laundering, and violation of tax law.

It provided no further details, but said the judge had referred the case file to Beirut First Investigative Judge Charbel Bou Samra, “demanding that they be interrogated and that the necessary judicial warrants be issued against them”.

Riad Salameh told Reuters news agency in a text message that the charges were “not an indictment” and promised to co-operate with the judicial process.

“I am respectful of the laws and of the judicial system and will abide by the procedure, and as you know one is innocent till proven guilty by a court of law,” he wrote.

He has previously dismissed the accusations as part of an effort to make him a scapegoat for Lebanon’s economic collapse.

His critics have questioned how he amassed a substantial personal fortune.

He has insisted that the source was the $23m he earned as an investment banker before becoming the governor of Banque du Liban in 1993. He has said that he “wisely invested” that money and that his wealth has grown over time.

Authorities in Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein are also investigating Mr Salameh and his brother over similar allegations.

A judicial delegation from three of those European countries travelled to Beirut last month to interview bankers and other witnesses. They are due to return in early March to continue their investigation.