Lebanon banking chief set to miss Paris hearing: Judicial official

AFP , Monday 15 May 2023

Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh is expected to miss an upcoming hearing in a French probe after Lebanese police had failed to deliver a summons, a judicial official said Monday.

 A bank window broken by depositors in Lebanon
File Photo: A Lebanese policeman stands guard next to a bank window broken by depositors who had demanded access to their money. An activist group said it will continue to organise bank raids to help people retrieve their trapped savings. AP


Salameh, 72, has been the target of a series of judicial investigations both at home and abroad on allegations including fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

European investigators looking into the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job had scheduled a hearing in Paris for Tuesday.

Lebanese "police officers visited the central bank four times last week to hand Riad Salameh an official summons" on behalf of the French authorities, the judicial official told AFP.

"But they could not find him anywhere" and the summons was returned to Lebanon's judiciary, which was to notify French authorities, the official said.

The official, who requested anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the press, said Salameh will likely be absent from the Paris hearing given the failure to deliver the summons.

Later Monday, Salameh, his brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoayek requested that Lebanon suspend cooperation with the European investigators.

Salameh is part of a political class widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in Lebanon in late 2019 and which the World Bank has dubbed one of the worst in recent history.

In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to the French probe into Salameh's wealth.

This year, European investigators have questioned Salameh in Beirut, also hearing from a Lebanese minister, the governor's brother and central bank audit firms.

'Violating Lebanon's Sovereignty' 

A visiting French judge had told Salameh in March that he was expected to appear in Paris, but a Lebanese judge attending the session said any summons needed to adhere to official procedures.

A security officer at the central bank had given different reasons for Salameh's absence, telling police he had just left the building, was in a meeting or could not come to his workplace for "security reasons", the judicial official said.

In February, Lebanon charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of its own investigations.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The domestic probe was opened following a request for assistance from Switzerland's public prosecutor looking into more than $300 million in fund movements by the Salameh and his brother.

On Monday, defence lawyers representing Salameh, his brother and Hoayek submitted "a formal request to the public prosecution to suspend European judicial assistance (in the case) because it is in conflict with the ongoing Lebanon probe", the official said.

Salameh's lawyers accuse the European investigators of "violating Lebanon's sovereignty", and want them to "permanently suspend" their probe into the central bank's ties to Forry Associates Ltd.

Forry is a British Virgin Islands-registered company that listed Salameh's brother as its beneficiary.

It is suspected of having brokered Lebanese treasury bonds and Eurobonds at a commission, which was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts abroad.

Last month, a Lebanese judge lifted a travel ban imposed on the embattled central bank chief ahead of the planned hearing abroad.

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