Riad Salameh's role not on Lebanese cabinet's agenda

Saade Chami, Lebanon’s caretaker deputy prime minister, sends official memo calling for central bank governor to resign

Riad Salameh has denied any wrongdoing. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Lebanon's cabinet is not scheduled to discuss the removal from office of the country's central bank governor on Friday, despite calls from members for Riad Salameh to resign.

Mr Salameh is the subject of arrest warrants from France and Germany on money-laundering allegations.

Saade Chami, Lebanon’s caretaker deputy prime minister, who is leading negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to secure much-needed loans for the nation, on Wednesday sent a memorandum to his fellow ministers calling for Mr Salameh's dismissal.

The agenda for the cabinet meeting, which according to the constitution is determined by the Prime Minister, includes among its 72 listed topics the name change of a faculty but not the central bank governor.

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, known for his long-standing support of Mr Salameh, has yet to issue an official statement regarding his position on the matter.

"The credibility of the government as a whole, and the credibility of the people involved in the process of economic reform and negotiation with international institutions (the Minister of Finance and Economy and myself) will suffer great harm if we remain silent about this dangerous development", Mr Chami wrote in the memorandum.

Mr Chami told The National on Thursday the seven-page letter was initially supposed to be private but it was leaked to the media.

"I don't know why the issue is not included in the agenda, despite my memorandum," he said.

"Whether it's on the agenda or not, it could be raised during the meeting tomorrow."

The cabinet held a consultative meeting on Monday to gather and evaluate diverse opinions from political blocs.

The result of these exchanges was a statement that the executive power intends to await formal accusations from the Lebanese judiciary before taking any measures in the case.

It was expected that the issue would be on the table again during the regular meeting, where the cabinet holds the authority to enforce decisions.

"Despite the fact that the issue was discussed in the consultative session, it needs to be addressed in the regular meeting for a formal decision to be taken. I had hoped that the government will deal with that matter", Mr Chami said.

"But there is a significant reluctance to bring about change within the political system. This has already complicated the discussions surrounding the IMF and the implementation of the necessary reforms, despite the hard efforts put in to sign the staff level agreement."

He said he did not want to comment on a potential resignation if the issue of the governor's dismissal is overlooked.

How Lebanon's central bank governor allegedly embezzled millions

How Lebanon's central bank governor allegedly embezzled millions

Calls for Mr Salameh's resignation have been intensifying since the recent judicial development against the governor, with the Minister of Justice and major Christian political parties the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement behind such a move.

On Wednesday, Mr Salameh surrendered his French and Lebanese passports to the Lebanese judiciary at a hearing in Beirut.

However, no immediate judicial actions were taken.

Instead, the Lebanese judge requested access to the file held by the French judiciary to "determine whether the Lebanese judiciary will prosecute him for the crimes he is accused of in France".

Mr Salameh has denied any wrongdoing.

He has not been convicted and proceedings are still at the investigative stage.

He said he would step down only if a judicial ruling was issued against him.

That there is "an international arrest warrant against the ruler is not a simple detail because it will inevitably be reflected in how international institutions, the international community, and correspondent banks deal with the central bank and with Lebanon", Mr Chami wrote in his memo.

"Do we need additional complications or more confidence and credibility building?"

Updated: July 26, 2023, 11:28 AM