Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine indicted in Paris in Salameh embezzlement probe

Exclusive documents suggest he falsified banking statements for accounts owned by Raja Salameh

Marwan Kheireddine, chief executive of Lebanese bank Al Mawarid, is the second person to be indicted in France's investigation into central bank governor Riad Salameh. Twitter/ Marwan Kheireddine
Powered by automated translation

Marwan Kheireddine, chief executive of Lebanese bank Al Mawarid, was indicted in Paris at the end of last month as part of the French investigation into alleged embezzlement of more than $330 million by Lebanon's central bank governor, Riad Salameh, with the help of his brother Raja.

The French deputy financial prosecutor confirmed the indictment to The National on Friday.

"I confirm that Marwan Kheireddine has been indicted for aggravated money laundering charges and participation in a criminal conspiracy, and placed under judicial supervision as part of the judicial investigation opened in France, targeting notably embezzlement at the Central Bank of Lebanon," Antoine Jocteur-Monrozier said by email.

Mr Kheireddine is a former Lebanese government minister. He has not been arrested.

The development comes amid continuing investigations in Europe into an alleged money-laundering scheme funnelled from the central bank to purchase high-end properties in Europe for Riad Salameh and his associates.

The Salameh brothers have consistently maintained their innocence.

Banking statements analysed

Previous revelations from The National based on documents from the Lebanese judicial file shared with the European inquiry showed investigators were examining three bank accounts held by Raja Salameh at Al Mawarid on behalf of his brother.

In January, Mr Kheireddine was questioned in Lebanon by visiting European investigators in relation to these accounts, which reportedly generated exceptionally high investment returns between 1993 and 2019, growing from an initial investment of $15 million to $150 million.

In a letter to the French judge, seen by the National, Riad Salameh's lawyer Pierre Olivier Sur said: "Raja Salameh opened accounts in his name where funds belonging to Riad Salameh were placed" because the governor "entrusted a large part of the management of his personal assets to his brother", before he was appointed at the central bank.

The letter comes with photocopies of the three account statements.

He added that these accounts "yielded high revenues" over the years, which could account for the "growth of Riad Salameh's assets".

This would contradict allegations of illicit enrichment by providing a legitimate explanation of the origin of his wealth.

But the Lebanese judge in charge at the time of a parallel probe into the Riad Salameh saw things differently.

Jean Tannous wrote that "Riad Salameh entrusted his brother Raja Salameh in 1993 with an amount of $15 million" in violation of the Code of Money and Credit, "which prohibits the governor from retaining any stake in a private company".

There also seemed to be suspicions over the legitimacy of the banking statements, which Mr Tannous said did "not contain any element confirming their authenticity and their non-falsification". The brothers claim the withdrawals were all in cash, then were deposited into Riad Salameh's account at the central bank.

"The file does not include banking statements of Riad Salameh's accounts at the central bank", making the flow of money impossible to track, Mr Tannous wrote.

In any case, the vast cash withdrawals from these accounts, often delivered in boxes, "are either irregular or conceal money laundering", he said.

Mr Kheireddine is known for his close ties with Riad Salameh. He ran in last year's parliamentary election on a list backed by the powerful Shia party, Hezbollah, and its ally Amal, but lost to independent candidate Firas Hamdan. He did not respond to a request for comment.

It is the second indictment in the French probe into the governor. In July, Anna Kosakova, 46, the romantic partner of Riad Salameh, was indicted for criminal conspiracy, organised money laundering and aggravated tax fraud.

In French law, an indictment is a significant step before an eventual prosecution as it signals that the investigation has progressed to a point where there is sufficient evidence to justify a formal accusation of wrongdoing.

Updated: April 09, 2023, 8:16 AM