Lebanon finds itself in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, and the legal actions against its central bank governor, Riad Salameh, are intensifying both domestically and internationally. Germany has issued a second arrest warrant against Salameh, as reported by Reuters on Thursday. The German public prosecutor verbally informed the Lebanese judiciary of the warrant, adding to the ongoing investigations into Salameh’s alleged involvement in a series of financial crimes.
According to a senior judicial source, the charges against Salameh include corruption, forgery, money laundering, and embezzlement. This development comes a week after France issued a similar arrest warrant when Salameh failed to appear at a hearing in Paris where French prosecutors planned to present fraud and money laundering charges against him.
Salameh is currently being investigated by six European countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg. The investigations focus on his alleged role in the embezzlement of $330 million from the central bank between 2002 and 2015, involving money transfers to an obscure offshore company.
Last Friday, Lebanon received an Interpol red notice for Salameh, a nonbinding request for global law enforcement agencies to locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive wanted for prosecution. Lebanon’s policy prevents the extradition of its nationals, opting instead to try them in local courts.
Judicial officials have confirmed that Salameh will not be handed over to French authorities. State prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat will request his files from France to oversee the case within Lebanon. Oueidat has summoned Salameh for questioning in a hearing session scheduled for later this week.
Salameh, maintaining his innocence, is expected to file an appeal against the Interpol notice on Tuesday, as stated by his lawyer in an interview with LBCI TV channel.
Meanwhile, the French prosecution has summoned Salameh’s brother, Raja Salameh, and assistant, Marianne Hoayek, for separate hearings in Paris on May 31 and June 13, respectively.
Following the French arrest warrant, calls for Salameh’s resignation have grown, even before his term expires in July. Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh al-Shami and Caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury have both called for his resignation, citing the gravity of the crimes he is accused of.
Despite the mounting pressure, the government has refrained from dismissing Salameh. In a statement issued after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, it was announced that Salameh would remain in his position until the end of his term, awaiting a judicial decision.
Once regarded as a symbol of financial stability in Lebanon, Salameh is now seen as a fugitive. Many hold him responsible for the country’s economic collapse in October 2019. The local currency has suffered an over 98% devaluation, with millions of Lebanese unable to access their deposits due to informal capital controls imposed by commercial banks. This situation has led to skyrocketing prices, increased poverty rates, and a lack of progress in implementing necessary reforms to unlock international aid.
Sources have revealed to Reuters that Lebanon is likely to be added to the grey list of a global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. The Middle East and North Africa section of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has completed its preliminary evaluation of Lebanon’s economy, scoring the country as only partially compliant in several categories. The final report is expected to be submitted during a meeting in Bahrain this week. Being grey-listed would further damage Lebanon’s financial reputation, disrupt capital flows, and impede global finance packages.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File