European investigators back in Beirut to quiz Riad Salameh

Central bank governor to be questioned on Wednesday as part of international probe

Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon's central bank, has yet to confirm his attendance at Wednesday's scheduled questioning. AP
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European officials arrived in Beirut on Monday to question Riad Salameh over the alleged embezzlement of more than $330 million from Lebanon's central bank, a judicial source told The National.

It was their second visit as part of an international investigation into the longstanding Banque Du Liban governor. They plan to speak to Mr Salameh on Wednesday.

Questions prepared in Europe will be asked by the Lebanese judge in charge of the case in the presence of the EU officials, the source added.

The rogatory commission, in which a judge can instruct another to investigate and seek evidence that it cannot do itself, is part of mutual legal assistance between Lebanon and the European judiciary.

This falls under the UN's Convention against Corruption, ratified by Lebanon in 2009, which regulates international co-operation in criminal matters.

The visiting team, which includes Aude Buresi, the judge leading the Salameh case in France, is planning to stay in Lebanon for three days.

Mr Salameh's hearing is the main focus of the trip and might take several days, the source said.

The governor has yet to officially confirm his attendance. He previously failed to appear at questioning related to a probe into property acquisition in Paris, an investigation connected to the current case.

In January, investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg visited Lebanon to hear witnesses and collect evidence.

The trip was considered a success. The visiting team was able to quiz a dozen witnesses with the assistance of the Lebanese judiciary, including high-ranking officials at the central bank, prominent bankers and an auditor.

New charges in Lebanon

At least six European countries are investigating Riad Salameh and his brother Raja over allegations of financial wrongdoing. These are Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium and Liechtenstein.

They are looking into Forry, a company managed by Raja Salameh, with which the central bank signed a contract in 2002 to sell its financial products, such as certificates of deposit, Eurobonds and treasury bills.

Investigators suspect that Forry, which is registered in the Virgin Islands, is a shell company created only to funnel embezzled funds to Europe, where the governor and his entourage own property worth millions of dollars.

European investigations have yet to press charges against the Salamehs and the brothers have denied all accusations against them.

Last month, Lebanese judge Raja Hamoush charged Riad Salameh, his brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Howayek with embezzlement, forgery, illicit enrichment, money laundering and violation of tax law, and transferred the case to Beirut first investigative judge Charbel Bou Samra.

The move, based on an 18-month investigation, is part of a parallel probe into Forry opened in Lebanon in 2021.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 2:04 PM