French judge issues arrest warrant for Lebanese central bank governor
A French investigative judge on Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor, after he failed to appear for questioning on corruption charges.
Salameh was supposed to appear before French prosecutors as part of an ongoing European probe, and Judge Aud Bourizi issued the warrant in Paris.
A European judicial team from France, Germany, and Luxembourg has been conducting a corruption investigation into an array of financial crimes it alleges were committed by Salameh and a long list of his associates from Lebanon’s central bank, as well as commercial banks and auditing companies. The allegations include illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million.
Salameh, 72, who has held his post for 30 years, has repeatedly denied all allegations against him. He has insisted that his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments.
The Lebanese judiciary informed the French judiciary five days ago that they could not trace Salameh in his office at the central bank after three attempts to notify him to appear before the Paris court on the scheduled date of May 16.
Salameh was previously investigated by a European judicial delegation that visited Beirut three times. Investigators also questioned the current Minister of Finance Youssef Khalil, as well as a number of former deputies of the governor of the central bank, presidents of the boards of directors of Lebanese banks, employees of the central bank, and auditors of central bank accounts.
Salameh said in a statement that he will “appeal the decision of Judge Bourizi, which constitutes a clear violation of the laws, and was made based on preconceived ideas without giving any value to the clear documents presented before her.”
Salameh said the decision was a blatant violation of the most basic laws as the judge did not respect the legal deadlines stipulated in French law, despite being informed and aware of them.
He said that the French judge had “violated the application of the 2003 UN Convention and internationally recognized procedures on which it relies, particularly in the context of international judicial assistance.”
He added that the French investigation violated a fundamental principle related to the confidentiality of investigations as it had become clear from recent press articles that media agencies had obtained confidential documents without any restrictions and were aware in advance of the intentions of the investigators and judges.
Salameh said that “the events that accompanied the French investigations contradict the principle of the presumption of innocence in their dealings, and the selective application of texts and laws.”
He also accused Bourizi of interfering in the process of appointing French lawyers for the Lebanese state.
Salameh called the French decision “justice built on double standards.”
Salameh earlier accused a group of “civilians, journalists, and politicians of fabricating facts” and said that he felt there had been a thirst to accuse him for more than two years.
Salameh has been in office as the governor of the central bank since 1993, and his term ends in July.
Salameh, his brother Raja, and the governor’s former assistant Marianne Hoayek are scheduled to appear before the Lebanese judiciary on Thursday.
The Lebanese judiciary has previously accused Salameh of embezzlement, money laundering, forgery, using forged documents, breach of duty, and tax evasion.
The Lebanese Kataeb Party accused “the ruling authority of saving Salameh from appearing before the French judiciary to escape from the crimes committed by this authority.”
It added that “pursuing Salameh before the judiciary makes his continued stay in his position unacceptable and necessitates his resignation; otherwise, it constitutes a new insult to the Lebanese people, who were the first victims of the financial crimes that he committed in collusion and solidarity with influential persons.”