Riad Salameh's assistant faces European investigators in Beirut

Marianne Hoayek is a suspect in inquiry into alleged embezzlement by Lebanon's central bank Governor

Marianne Hoayek, a senior executive adviser, has worked at Lebanon's central bank since 2003. Photo: Banque du Liban
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Marianne Hoayek, a senior adviser at Lebanon's central bank, was questioned on Thursday by European investigators looking into the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from the bank.

Judicial officials from Luxembourg, France and Germany are visiting Lebanon as part of a cross-border inquiry into the financial dealings of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who is suspected to have embezzled more than $330 million from Banque du Liban.

Ms Hoayek, 42, is suspected of having received funds embezzled from the central bank through Forry Associates, a company owned by Mr Salameh's brother, Raja Salameh, which is at the heart of an alleged money laundering scheme that dates back to 2002.

She arrived for questioning at Beirut's Justice Palace on Thursday morning at around 10.30am, with hearing ending just before 3pm.

The European investigators questioned the central bank governor in Beirut in March and returned on Monday for further hearings.

They were set to quiz Raja Salameh as part of the probe on Tuesday and Wednesday, but he was unavailable due to health reasons.

In 2002, the BDL reportedly entered into a secret brokerage agreement under which banks were unknowingly paying commissions to Forry for each transaction with the central bank.

Investigators suspect Forry was not performing any services and was set up only to siphon money from the central bank that was then used to purchase high-end real estate in Europe Germany, France, Belgium and the UK belonging to the governor and his relatives.

According to a leaked request for assistance from Swiss investigators to the Lebanese judiciary in 2021, Ms Hoayek is suspected of receiving a portion of these commissions.

The Swiss letter said that more than $1.1 million was transferred indirectly from Forry to Ms Hoayek through her company, Rise Invest SA, between 2008 and 2013.

Switzerland is one of six European countries investigating transactions related to the alleged embezzlement from BDL.

Illicit enrichment?

The value of Ms Hoayek's assets in proportion to her salary as a public servant has also sparked the investigators' suspicions.

In a 2021 hearing before Lebanese Judge Jean Tannous, who was leading a separate but parallel investigation into Mr Salameh, she said her monthly salary at the central bank was “three million Lebanese pounds” ($2,000 according to the exchange rate at the time) when she started working there as an intern in 2003, according to the minute seen by The National.

Her pay reached 18 million Lebanese pounds between 2015-2020 after “gradually increasing” over the years, she said.

A report seen by The National sent from Monaco's financial investigation unit SICCFIN estimated her fortune at about €14.1 million ($15.6 million).

Monaco is looking into accounts held there by Ms Hoayek and the Salameh brothers at the request of the French judiciary.

Investigators in Monaco said “like Mr Riad Salameh, the overall assessment of Ms Hoayek's wealth appears to rely, in part, on declarative elements that do not allow for determining the exact origin of her assets, and furthermore, determining whether these assets have a lawful origin”.

This “could suggest an offence of money laundering or concealment of funds derived from embezzlement and/or fraud,” the reports added.

Ms Hoayek did not respond to requests for comment.

Four years after joining BDL, Ms Hoayek was appointed director of the executive office by Mr Salameh. In 2020, she was appointed as senior executive adviser and was tasked with the development of Sayrafa, the central bank's exchange platform.

Updated: April 30, 2023, 5:31 PM