A Lebanese judge has charged Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, his brother Raja, and one of his assistants with money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment, a senior judicial source said on Thursday.
“I can confirm the charges,” Raja Hamoush, the Beirut public prosecutor, told The National.
When asked about the significance of levying charges similar but separate to those imposed by Mount Lebanon prosecutor Ghada Aoun last year, Mr Hamoush said: “I can’t explain that because it concerns judicial secrecy.”
The charges come after an 18-month investigation into alleged embezzlement in Lebanon. A previous judge recused himself last summer and did not file charges. Lebanon's most senior prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat in January said he was planning to appoint a new judicial official to take on the case.
The Salameh brothers have denied the accusations.
“As I declared previously, I am innocent of these charges,” Riad Salameh told Reuters on Thursday. He said the latest development was “not an indictment”.
“I am respectful of the laws and of the judicial system and will abide by the procedure, and as you know one is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law,” he said.
Last March, Ms Aoun charged Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment in a case related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments.
Riad Salameh has faced repeated accusations of plundering state assets.
He said this month he was ready to step down from his 30-year stint as governor when his fifth term ends in July.
Riad Salameh, who retains the support of some key politicians, also faces several European investigations over alleged corruption and financial wrongdoing. Investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg were in Beirut last month to interview members of the banking sector. They are supposed to return next month to continue the investigation.
Among the accusations are that Mr Salameh embezzled $330 million from the central bank through a contract he signed with Forry Associates, a financial services company headed by his brother, Raja. Riad Salameh has previously insisted “no single dollar from the central bank’s money was paid to Forry”.
As governor, Riad Salameh is among the key figures blamed for Lebanon's devastating economic collapse during which the local currency has plummeted in value, pushing many Lebanese into poverty.