Seizures affirmed on Lebanese Central Bank governor’s French assets following fraud allegations

A significant step toward a potential trial unfolded on Tuesday as Paris’ Court of Appeal endorsed the seizure of assets attributed to the influential Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, amid suspicions of fraudulent acquisition.

The legal difficulties are intensifying for the Lebanese banking figurehead, as the Parisian court has validated a dozen seizures on Salameh’s wealth, believed to have been obtained illegally. Sources close to the case disclosed that the court upheld the validity of the seizures targeting Salameh’s real estate and bank holdings across Europe; Salameh has led the Lebanese Central Bank since 1993.

Governor Salameh’s team had contested a series of seizures by France, valuing tens of millions of Euros: apartments in Paris’ 16th district, on the Champs-Élysées, in the UK, Belgium, and numerous bank accounts.

The wealth is believed to have been secured through a sophisticated financial scheme and extensive embezzlement of public funds, a subject under investigation by various European authorities, alongside an enquiry in Lebanon.

“The confirmation of these seizures erodes Salameh’s defence while reinforcing an already substantial legal process. This is a certain advancement,” rejoiced William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, lawyers representing the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon (CPVCL), the plaintiffs.

Reacting to the court’s decision, Pierre-Olivier Sur, Salameh’s lawyer, stated, “This is a stage in the process. Following these charges, there will be acts of discharge and favourable decisions. We are filing an appeal.”

The stakes were significant: the Attorney General of the Court of Appeal had called for confirmation of the seizures, fearing that if these were annulled, France would lose all prospects of confiscation of these assets in the event of a conviction.

International Arrest Warrant Following Salameh’s no-show at a summons from French justice on 16th May, an international arrest warrant was issued for him by the financial examining magistrate handling this case.

Yet, as Lebanon refuses to extradite its nationals and adjudicates them on its soil if they are convicted abroad, it is unlikely that Salameh will be present at a potential trial in France.

Upon receiving Interpol’s red notice based on this arrest warrant, Lebanese justice has barred Salameh from leaving the ‘Land of the Cedars’ and confiscated his two Lebanese and French passports.

Since the start of the year, European judges, including a French magistrate, have thrice visited Lebanon to question Salameh, and his close acquaintances, including his brother, Raja Salameh.

Salameh, who is closely tied to his country’s political class battling a severe monetary crisis since 2019, continues to serve as the head of the Central Bank and denounced “baseless” allegations in May. His term is due to end in July.

Investigations began in France following complaints by the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, established by savers swindled during the country’s crisis since 2019.

Following a preliminary investigation, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) opened a judicial inquiry for organised money laundering and conspiracy to commit a crime on 2 July 2021.

Besides Salameh, at least three other people are implicated in the French judicial information: Anna K., a confidante of Salameh suspected of being one of his proxies in France;

Image Credit: Tachfine Oumlil on Wikimedia

Tags : Lebanon