European investigators arrive in Lebanon as part of Riad Salameh inquiry

Two former members of the Lebanese central bank to be heard as witnesses on Monday

At least six European countries have opened investigations into Riad Salameh since 2020. Reuters
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European investigators arrived in Lebanon on Monday as part of their inquiry into Lebanon's Central Bank governor Riad Salameh.

Caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury, who confirmed the visit last Wednesday, said judicial officials from France, Germany and Luxembourg were seeking to “interrogate” people in relation to alleged financial crimes.

At least six European countries have opened investigations into Riad Salameh and his entourage since 2020 over the alleged embezzlement of more than $330 million from Banque du Liban (BDL) — Lebanon's central bank — through a contract awarded to his brother Raja Salameh’s company, Forry Associates.

Banks were unknowingly paying commission to his brother's company each time they bought BDL's financial products — certificates of deposit, Eurobonds, and Treasury Bills — under a brokerage contract signed in 2002 by Riad Salameh.

European investigators retraced an alleged money laundering scheme, which followed a complex path through banking institutions in Switzerland and Luxembourg to luxurious properties in France, Germany, Belgium and the UK, European judicial documents seen by the National reveal.

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The European delegation is looking to hear from about 20 people related to the Salameh case and gain access to documents, sources told The National.

AFP reported that two Lebanese judges are set to hear two former employees of the Lebanese central bank as witnesses on Monday. They will question a former deputy governor of BDL and a former member of the banking control committee on behalf of the European judicial officials.

The names of the witnesses and suspects to be heard have not been officially confirmed.

Raja and Riad Salameh's account information from Lebanese banks is crucial because it is alleged that most of Forry’s commissions were transferred back to Lebanon through Raja Salameh’s Lebanese personal bank accounts. The data may help completely retrace the money flow.

The two brothers have denied any wrongdoing. Riad Salameh said his wealth has been lawfully acquired and comes from investments he made while working at Merrill Lynch as a banker before he became the head of the central bank in 1993.

The trip has sparked concern over a potential violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. This was denied by Lebanon's top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, who told The National that the European delegation is “no prejudice to Lebanon’s sovereignty” and that the visit falls within the United Nations Convention against Corruption, ratified by Lebanon in 2009, which regulates international co-operation in criminal matters.

Updated: January 16, 2023, 11:47 AM
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