Raja Salameh fails to attend hearing with European investigators in corruption inquiry

Brother of Lebanon's Central Bank Governor said to have helped embezzle millions through shell company

The Lebanese Central Bank building in Beirut. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Raja Salameh, the brother of Lebanon's Central Bank Governor, failed to attend a hearing before a delegation of European officials on Tuesday, a judicial source told The National.

His lawyer presented a medical report to account for his absence.

He was scheduled to be questioned as a suspect as part of a cross-border inquiry into a series of corruption allegations against his sibling Riad Salameh.

Raja Salameh is suspected to have helped his brother to embezzle more than $330 million from Lebanon's central bank through a brokerage contract awarded to Forry Associates, a company he owned, to which banks were unknowingly paying commissions for every financial instrument they purchased from the central bank.

The money was then allegedly funnelled to Europe to fund luxurious properties owned by the governor and his entourage.

The European delegation, which includes investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg, is set to stay for 15 days to conduct multiple hearings, the source said.

They are set to question Marianne Hoayek as a suspect on Thursday, the source added. The ex-assistant and former romantic partner of Riad Salameh is alleged to have received some of the funds in a bank account in Switzerland as part of an alleged money laundering scheme.

At least five others from the banking sector and the central bank are also scheduled to be heard as witnesses later during the visit.

The European visit falls within the UN Convention against Corruption ratified by Lebanon in 2009, which regulates international co-operation in criminal matters.

Under the agreement, foreign judges do not have the prerogative to compel a suspect or witness to appear at a hearing in Lebanon.

This is the European investigators' third visit to Lebanon as part of the embezzlement case.

They questioned Riad Salameh during their last visit, as well as a dozen people from the financial sector. These included Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine, who was indicted in March in France for alleged aggravated money laundering and participation in a criminal conspiracy.

The French judiciary summoned Riad Salameh for another hearing on May 16. Reuters reported that they informed the governor of their intention to bring preliminary charges of fraud and money laundering against him.

Charges in Lebanon

Riad and Raja Salameh, along with Ms Hoayek, are also facing local charges including money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment as part of a parallel but related investigation opened in Lebanon.

Raja Salameh was arrested and charged with “complicity with illicit enrichment” last year in Lebanon. He was released on bail for a record amount of 100 billion Lebanese pounds ($3.7 million) after nearly two months of detention.

Both brothers denied any wrongdoing, with Riad Salameh repeatedly stating that he did not receive any public funds into his personal accounts.

Updated: April 25, 2023, 9:57 AM