French prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Riad Salameh, the Governor of Lebanon’s central bank, after he failed to appear for questioning on corruption charges. Salameh, 72, who vehemently denies all allegations against him, criticized the move and vowed to appeal the warrant, calling it a violation of the law.
Salameh has been the subject of multiple domestic and international investigations, accused of offenses including fraud, money laundering, and illicit enrichment. A European judicial team comprising investigators from France, Germany, and Luxembourg is conducting a corruption probe into various financial crimes, including the alleged laundering of $330 million and illicit enrichment.
During a visit to Lebanon in March, a European delegation interrogated Salameh regarding the Lebanese central bank’s overseas assets and investments, as well as a Paris apartment owned by the governor and the brokerage firm Forry Associates Ltd, belonging to his brother Raja Salameh. Forry, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, listed Salameh’s brother as its beneficiary and is suspected of facilitating the brokering of Lebanese treasury bonds and eurobonds, with alleged commissions transferred to foreign bank accounts.
Lebanese authorities failed to deliver the official summons to Salameh, as police officers made four unsuccessful attempts to locate him at the central bank. The summons was subsequently returned to Lebanon’s judiciary, which was to notify the French authorities. Salameh’s current whereabouts remain unknown.
In Lebanon, the Beirut Public Prosecutor charged Salameh, his brother, and a close associate with corruption, including embezzlement of public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money laundering, and violation of tax laws. Salameh, once regarded as a guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, is increasingly held responsible for the country’s severe economic crisis, which has pushed three-quarters of the population into poverty.
Salameh’s term as central bank governor concludes in July, and while no apparent successor has been identified, he has expressed his intention to step down. Defence lawyers representing Salameh, his brother, and his former assistant have submitted a formal request to suspend European judicial assistance, arguing that it conflicts with the ongoing Lebanese investigation. They accuse the European investigators of encroaching upon Lebanon’s sovereignty and demand the permanent suspension of the probe into the central bank’s association with Forry Associates Ltd.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File