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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Lebanese judge charges central bank chief with corruption

Lebanese judge charges central bank chief with corruption

Investigative judge Ghada Aoun charges three-decade bank chief Riad Salameh, as well as his brother, with crimes.

Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh has been charged with illegal enrichment and money laundering during Lebanon’s economic meltdown.

Ghada Aoun, an investigative judge at Mount Lebanon district court, said on Monday that she had charged Governor Riad Salameh, along with his brother, Raja Salameh, who was arrested last week.

Aoun also ordered that the brother’s assets be frozen.

The move came as the banking sector went on a two-day strike on Monday to protest recent moves by Lebanon’s judiciary against local lenders. Lebanon’s economic crisis erupted in 2019 — the worst in its modern history.

The protest by the banks came after Aoun last week froze the assets of six of Lebanon’s largest banks, and those of their board of directors, as she investigates possible transfers of billions of dollars abroad as they imposed informal capital controls.

Aoun said that the Salameh brothers and Ukrainian citizen Anna Kosakova had formed three companies in France to buy property there. Aoun said last week that Riad Salameh had used his brother to buy real estate in France worth nearly $12m.

Riad Salameh, who has headed the central bank for 30 years, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He did not show up on Monday morning for questioning by Aoun. Raja Salameh, who was arrested on Thursday, will remain in custody.

The judge’s charges stem from a lawsuit filed against the Salamehs by a group of lawyers who accuse the governor of corruption.

In January, Aoun imposed a travel ban and froze some of the assets of the 71-year-old governor. He is also being investigated in several European nations, including Switzerland and France, for potential money laundering and embezzlement.

Riad Salameh has steered Lebanese finances since 1993, through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. Once praised as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, he has drawn increasing scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019.

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