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Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

Demands grow for dismissal of Lebanese central bank governor amid economic crisis

Demands grow for dismissal of Lebanese central bank governor amid economic crisis

Ten reformist MPs issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding the immediate removal of Riad Salameh from his position as central bank governor.
The MPs condemned Salameh’s approach of “financing the policies of successive governments without accountability” and pledged to form a parliamentary investigation committee.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar reported on Thursday that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati requested Salameh’s resignation in a letter.

It said, however, that the governor categorically refused to step down before the end of his term in July as that would be an “admission of (guilt regarding) the accusations against him, which is unacceptable.”

A judicial source said the Lebanese Public Prosecution had not yet received any memorandum from France over 48 hours after the issuance of the French judicial decision to prosecute and arrest Salameh.

“If the memo arrives, the Lebanese judiciary will request Salameh’s case, which is with the French judiciary, to know the charges against him,” the source said.

Consequently, Salameh would be tried in Lebanon and before the Lebanese judiciary, the source added, and would not be handed over to the French authorities, as happened with Lebanese businessman Carlos Ghosn.

The French judge responsible for investigating Salameh’s funds and assets in Europe, Aude Buresi, issued an international arrest warrant against Salameh after he failed to attend his questioning session before a Paris court, which was scheduled for May 16.

The European investigation — involving France, Germany, and Luxembourg — focuses on the relationship between Banque du Liban and Forry Associates, owned by the governor’s brother, Raja Salameh.

The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, with an office in Beirut, and is alleged to be a shell company used to transfer money out of Lebanon to European banks.

It is suspected that more than $330 million were embezzled from the central bank through a grant contract with the company, in addition to illegal commissions from local Lebanese banks.

Salameh did not appear before the first investigating judge, Charbel Abou Samra, in Beirut on Thursday as part of the Lebanese investigations.
He — along with his brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Hoayek — has been indicted for crimes including embezzlement of public funds, money
laundering, forgery, use of counterfeits, illicit enrichment, and tax evasion.

The legal representatives of the accused appeared before Judge Abou Samra to inquire about the court’s response to the formal objections raised by them.

They had demanded the removal of the Cases Authority at the Ministry of Justice from the case due to lack of jurisdiction.

Judge Abou Samra, however, rejected the objections, saying that the involvement of the Cases Authority in the lawsuit was legally justified.

He also scheduled June 15 for Raja Salameh’s interrogation.

The date for the interrogation of Riad Salameh and Hoayek will be determined later.

Salameh’s defense attorneys did not appeal Judge Abou Samra’s decision.

Despite the charges against him, Salameh is still considered a suspect in the Lebanese investigations.

The judicial source said that the issuance of the indictment made him an accused person, and the judgment made him a convicted person.

The demands for Salameh’s dismissal from his position grew on Thursday because of the judicial developments.

This step requires a Cabinet session, but there are differences of opinion regarding the legitimacy of holding such a meeting in light of the caretaker government and the presidential vacuum.

Samir Hammoud, former head of the Banking Control Commission, said: “The decision to circulate Salameh’s name to Interpol seems to have been made in advance, and what is happening in the judiciary is still within the preliminary procedures.”

Hammoud said Lebanon was experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis, ongoing in the context of the presidential vacuum, the presence of a caretaker government and the controversy over its powers to appoint a new central bank governor.

Ten reformist MPs issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding “the immediate removal of the accused, Riad Salameh, from his position.”

The MPs questioned: “Is it acceptable for the person pursued in these heinous and dangerous crimes to remain at the helm of governance, given the powers granted to him to oversee the safety of the national currency and the financial system?

“Is it acceptable for the Lebanese judiciary to engage in unpredictable adventures aimed at covering up the governor’s reluctance to attend investigation sessions in France?”

In the joint statement, opposition parties and groups emphasized that “the issuance of an international arrest warrant against Salameh is a crucial milestone in holding the ruling political and financial class accountable, which has become accustomed to general amnesty and impunity despite their numerous crimes against the Lebanese people.”

They stressed that “the extremely serious and unprecedented charges against the governor of the central bank necessitate his immediate removal from his position.”

The arrest warrant, they said, “represents a historic and very dangerous precedent for Lebanon’s financial reputation and evidence of the state’s decay due to the absence of accountability and supervision under the rule of the mafia and militia.”

They added: “The governor must resign immediately, in compliance with the principle of responsibility and the relevant provisions of the Code of Money and Credit, which hold the pursued governor accountable for his dereliction of duty and gross mismanagement of affairs.”

The opposition parties and groups hold the parliament responsible for the vacancy in the governorship of the central bank, as it has thus far failed to elect a president.

A president can serve as a gateway to reconstitute an executive authority with full powers to appoint a governor, they added.

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