European investigators to visit Lebanon as part of Riad Salameh inquiry

Governor of the Bank of Lebanon is being investigated over financial dealings in at least five European countries

Riad Salameh in a bullion vault at the Banque Du Liban in Beirut. Reuters
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Investigators from three European countries will visit Lebanon next month as part of an inquiry into embattled central bank governor Riad Salameh.

In March, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized properties and froze assets worth $130 million in an operation linked to an investigation launched by French investigators into Mr Salameh's personal wealth.

A team including prosecutors and investigative judges from the three countries will arrive in Beirut in mid-January, a judicial official told AFP.

Two Lebanese judicial sources confirmed the story when contacted by The National.

They will look into the activities of Mr Salameh, 72, and other officials at the Banque Du Liban, as well as the heads of Lebanese commercial banks.

Mr Salameh is being investigated over his financial dealings in at least five European countries.

Lebanon opened an investigation into Mr Salameh's wealth last year after the office of Switzerland's senior prosecutor requested assistance in a case in which Mr Salame allegedly embezzled about $330 million from the central bank with the help of his brother Raja via a company registered in the Virgin Islands.

Liechtenstein’s prosecutor general said in November last year that the country had opened a “money-laundering investigation” into Mr Salameh.

In June, a Lebanese prosecutor investigating Mr Salameh on suspicion of financial misconduct requested charges be issued against him based on preliminary findings.

Mr Salameh and his brother deny any wrongdoing.

Last week, a Lebanese judge froze property assets belonging to prominent Lebanese actress Stephanie Saliba, who was questioned in an investigation into alleged corruption by Mr Salameh.

Lebanese actress Stephanie Saliba received expensive gifts including property from former central bank governor Riad Salameh. Photo: Instagram

Investigators are looking into the sources of funds Mr Salameh used to buy the actress expensive gifts — including property.

The judge who froze the property assets told The National last week that Saliba has two “very expensive apartments” in the fashionable Gemmayze neighbourhood of Beirut, one in Beit Misk in the Metn region, about 20km east of Beirut and another in Ghazir, in Keserwan district, about the same distance north of the capital.

The judge involved, Mount Lebanon prosecutor Ghada Aoun, has previously raided the central bank and properties belonging to Mr Salameh, but were unable to locate him.

Lebanon is embroiled in an economic crisis that first emerged in 2019 and which has been blamed on decades of corruption and financial mismanagement.

As the governor of the Banque du Liban since 1993, Mr Salameh is seen by many as a key figure in the country's financial downturn.

The crisis has plunged much of Lebanon into poverty, while the local currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value against the US dollar. The country faces severe shortages of essentials such as clean water, electricity and medicine.

Earlier this week, the Lebanese pound had slipped to a record 47,000 pounds to the dollar on the parallel market, the most used rate.

That led the central bank on Tuesday to slash the value of the Lebanese pound to 38,000 per US dollar on its Sayrafa trading platform, one of several exchange rates in Lebanon

Lebanon’s official rate is 1,500 pounds per dollar, but it is largely meaningless now.

Updated: December 28, 2022, 1:50 PM