Lebanese cabinet says Salameh's resignation in hands of judiciary

France issued an arrest warrant for central bank governor last week

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati led the cabinet meeting on Monday. Reuters
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Lebanon's cabinet convened at the Grand Serail on Monday to discuss the fate of the country's central bank Governor, Riad Salameh

The cabinet did not released an official stance after the meeting.

But Ali Darwich, a former MP affiliated with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, told The National that "no decision will be taken regarding Salameh's resignation until his mandate expires at the end of July, unless formal accusations are issued in Lebanon".

"The decision is in the hand of the Lebanese judiciary but the cabinet won’t do anything until then," Mr Darwich said.

The meeting led by Mr Mikati came after the French judiciary last week issued an arrest warrant for Mr Salameh after his failure to attend a hearing in Paris related to the alleged embezzlement of more than $330 million from Lebanon's central bank.

The meeting included Saade Chami, Lebanon’s caretaker Deputy Prime Minister, who has already publicly called for Mr Salameh's resignation, and 12 other ministers.

Several jurists told The National that Lebanon's cabinet has the authority to dismiss a governor based on the Code of Money and Credit, even without the need for formal accusations, particularly in cases involving serious misconduct.

"In any other country, this would have been the case a long time ago," international lawyer Karim Daher said.

"It is commonly practised in the private sector: managers are suspended when there are suspicions of misconduct.

"All the more reason in the public sector, where individuals are entrusted with the responsibility for the public interest and funds."

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said the meeting was consultative, which means that while no decision will be enforced the objective is to assess the respective opinions of the political blocs.

On Friday, the Lebanese received an Interpol notice issued for Mr Salameh after a request made by the French judiciary.

Mr Salameh has said he will appeal the arrest warrant and the red notice.

French lawyer William Bourdon, representing the two civil parties in the French case, told The National Mr Salameh cannot challenge the warrant as long as he is evading the judiciary.

He added it was extremely uncommon for red notices to be lifted and it would occur only in the event of serious "procedural irregularities".

The extradition request regarding Mr Salameh, who holds French and Lebanese citizenship, will be reviewed by Lebanese judges.

Mr Mawlawi said the cabinet would abide by whatever decision was made. He said he believed it "necessary" for Mr Salameh to resign.

Minister of Justice Henri Khoury on Monday called for the bank governor to resign as his staying in the role "could have repercussions on the monetary situation of Lebanon".

A divisive issue

The question of his resignation remains a sensitive topic within the ruling class, given his long-standing strong political backing.

The governor on Thursday said he would not step down unless a judgment was issued.

The latest French judicial decision has largely eroded support for Mr Salameh amid growing calls for resignation from political groups such as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces.

However, senior officials such as Mr Mikati have yet to be heard on Mr Salameh's resignation.

The cabinet is scheduled to convene on Friday for a regular session, at which Mr Salameh's case is expected to be discussed.

Regardless of the decision regarding his resignation, Mr Salameh's mandate is set to end in July.

There is a consensus among the political class that his term will not be extended. However, the question of his successor remains unresolved.

New hearings scheduled

The French judiciary alleges Mr Salameh has embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon's central bank through commissions paid by commercial banks to a shell company owned by the governor's brother.

French judges suspect the misappropriated money benefitted Mr Salameh and his entourage, including his former assistant, Ms Marianne Hoayek, notably to finance high-end real estate in Europe.

Mr Salameh is also facing accusations of tampering with banking documents in a bid to justify the legitimacy of his wealth.

Reuters reported that the French judiciary has scheduled a hearing in Paris for Raja Salameh on May 31st and for Ms Hoayek on June 13th.

The Lebanese judiciary has received the summons from France and is awaiting a reply from both individuals, a Lebanese judiciary official told The National.

Last week, a Lebanese judge was unable to locate Mr Riad Salameh to deliver him a summons prior to his hearing in Paris.

Both brothers denied wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, Mr Salameh said the French investigation neglected the “confidentiality of investigations”, and contradicted “the presumption of innocence” in its approach and in its selective application of texts and laws.

Updated: May 22, 2023, 7:36 PM