Lebanon's central bank employees strike after judicial raid in search of governor

Operation led by judge Ghada Aoun failed to locate Riad Salameh and was criticised by prime minister-designate Najib Mikati

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Employees of Lebanon’s Banque du Liban began a three-day strike on Wednesday after a raid conducted in search of embattle central bank governor Riad Salameh.

The Tuesday raid was ordered by Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun. However, state security forces failed to locate Mr Salameh and the operation was criticised by prime minister-designate Najib Mikati.

Ms Aoun charged Mr Salameh, 71, and his brother Raja with illicit enrichment.

Riad Salameh, who has been central bank chief since 1993, also faces corruption investigations in five European countries.

Announcing their strike, the central bank employees said the raid “affected the dignity of the Banque du Liban and its employees”.

They threatened an open-ended strike if the matter was not resolved, calling on Lebanese authorities to “intervene to put an end to these inappropriate behaviours by Judge Ghada Aoun, which deviate from all legal principles”.

Abbas Awada, the head of the central bank's union, had earlier insisted that “the dignity of the institution and its employees comes first. We refuse to be dealt with by militia methods”.

“We do not defend Riad Salameh but the institution, and we do not accept these methods,” he said.

Ms Aoun, who has been contacted for comment, has defended her actions. Earlier on Tuesday, state security forces had also raided a residence owned by Mr Salameh in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

A previous raid last month by Ms Aoun and security forces on Mr Salameh’s property in Rabieh failed to locate him.

Banque du Liban staff went on a one-day strike a week later to protest against “the unjust situation against the central bank and its employees, and to avoid later escalation”.

The employees had described it as a “warning strike”.

Mr Mikati said the raid was not the appropriate way to deal with Mr Salameh’s case as such actions “threaten the stability of the country and can have unbearable consequences”.

“What is required is to solve this case with a prior political agreement on a central bank governor, and then take the appropriate legal course,” he said.

Ms Aoun entered the bank’s premises on Tuesday but left not long after following a separate judicial order asking her to leave.

She has pursued Mr Salameh for months. The central bank chief remains a highly controversial figure in Lebanon but retains the support of some influential politicians.

He is, in part, blamed for Lebanon’s devastating economic collapse, which first became apparent in 2019 and has plunged much of the country into poverty.

The local currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value and there are widespread shortages of fuel, medicines, electricity and other essentials.

Raja Salameh was detained in March and released in May on a record bail worth $3.7 million.

Updated: July 20, 2022, 9:57 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL