Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh, who is facing a series of domestic and international corruption allegations, said on Thursday that he would step down if a judicial ruling is issued against him.
“If a judgment is issued against me, I will resign,” he said. “The judicial pathway is unfair, but I am ready for it.”
Speaking to Al Hadath TV, Mr Salameh confirmed that he would not seek an extension of his three-decade leadership of the Banque du Liban. His tenure is set to expire in July.
This came after Lebanon's caretaker Deputy Prime Minister – who is also leading talks with the International Monetary Fund for a £3 billion bailout – called on Mr Salameh to resign following the international arrest warrant issued against him.
On Tuesday, a French judge issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to attend a hearing on corruption charges in Paris.
Mr Salameh and his brother Raja are being investigated in Lebanon and at least six European countries over the alleged embezzlement of more than $330 million from the Lebanese central bank. They deny any wrongdoing.
The central bank governor said that he “will attend any session at which I will be notified in accordance with the standards”.
In a statement after the warrant was issued, Mr Salameh said that French investigators had neglected the “confidentiality of investigations” and contradicted “the presumption of innocence” in their approach as well as in their selective application of texts and laws.
Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami told The Associated Press that the allegations against the central bank chief put the government’s credibility at risk and “could threaten the country’s financial relations with the rest of the world”, including with the IMF and other global financial institutions.
Since 2019, Lebanon has been embroiled in an economic crisis, the result of decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country's ruling classes – including the banking sector.
Having served as central bank governor for three decades, Mr Salameh is among the senior officials seen as responsible for the crisis. Angry protesters have frequently denounced him in public.
Mr Chami said that although Mr Salameh is innocent until proven guilty, “it is not possible nor acceptable for anyone who is accused of multiple alleged financial crimes in several countries to continue to exercise his powers” as central bank head.
The charges against Mr Salameh “are reputational risks” and “will necessarily be a distraction” for a central bank office that is “entrusted with the stability of the financial system”, he said.
Given that the time Mr Salameh has left to serve is short, “it would be better for him to resign, and if not, the government needs to take a decision”, Mr Chami added.
Lebanese judicial officials said on Thursday that the Interpol office in Lebanon had not yet received the arrest warrant.
Beirut agreed to a staff-level agreement for the bailout with the IMF last April. But, 13 months on, almost none of the conditions that the fund attached to the deal have been enacted.