Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh claims audit he commissioned exonerates him

Riad Salameh's comments come days after Luxembourg announced 'criminal case' into his finances

The head of Lebanon’s central bank has claimed an audit he commissioned exonerates him of any wrongdoing, just days after Luxembourg said it had opened “a criminal case” into his financial activities.

Banque Du Liban (BDL) governor Riad Salameh, 71, said a firm he had invited in to review his personal accounts found no evidence of malpractice. He said he was a victim of media smears and speculation.

“I asked a well-known, first-class audit firm to audit operations and investments that were the subject of constant media speculation,” said Mr Salameh.

“I have asked the audit office to review my investments that have been making headlines for the past year.

“These results clearly show that not a single penny was used from public funds to pay fees and commissions to Forry Associates.

“My opponents, who have organised systematic campaigns against me, have misled public opinion by spreading false information that public funds have been used. Nothing prevents me from investing and developing my own wealth, especially since it is only real estate and personal financial investments."

The review commissioned by Mr Salameh focused on transactions with Forry Associates, a company owned by the banker's brother.

That company, owned by Raja Salameh, took more than $300 million in commissions and fees between 2002 and 2014. But the governor insists he acted only as an intermediary between Forry Associates and third parties, and rejects claims of embezzlement.

He says he accumulated his wealth while working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch.

The 71-year-old is now the subject of at least three European investigations into financial wrongdoing under his tenure at the head of BDL. Switzerland and France are the other countries investigating his wealth.

A Swiss inquiry launched earlier this year is investigating Mr Salameh’s complicity in a litany of charges ranging from the misuse of public funds to illicit enrichment, money laundering and tax evasion.

The Swiss investigation prompted Lebanon’s public prosecutor Jean Tannous to launch a local investigation into the governor’s wealth.

Mr Salameh has headed BDL since 1993. A forensic audit of the bank's accounts is widely believed to be integral to Lebanon unlocking any international support as it goes through what the UN has described as one of the worst economic collapses in history.

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Updated: November 18th 2021, 5:04 AM
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