Raja Salameh's international real estate empire, from Europe to the US

Exclusive documents reveal an array of properties tied to the Lebanese central bank governor's brother around the globe

Riad Salameh, whose brother is linked to property in New York. Nick Donaldson / AFP
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The Salameh clan's real estate empire in Europe includes luxurious mansions in the most expensive areas of some capitals and a portfolio of industrial and commercial buildings generating substantial rental income. This adds up to property worth $92 million – which has been seized by the authorities.

But it appears their empire stretches beyond Europe to the US, where the European judiciary has uncovered properties valued at more than $4.5 million tied to Raja Salameh, the central bank governor's brother – and probably more.

While EU investigators managed to follow the origin of the seized European assets to Forry Associates Ltd, the shell company implicated in allegedly diverting funds from Lebanon's central bank through an irregular contract between 2002 and 2016, The National was unable to directly track the funds' origin for these US investments.

Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon's central bank, with the help of his brother Raja Salameh, is suspected of orchestrating an alleged money laundering scheme through a 0.38% commission imposed by Forry on commercial banks for each transaction with the central bank, without any corresponding services in return.

The US judiciary has so far refrained from taking any legal action, which could potentially lead to the mapping and subsequent seizure of these assets – so verified information remains scarce.

But serious doubt lingers regarding the legitimacy of the funds.

Forry allegedly funnelled more than $330 million from the Lebanese central bank, yet only €120 million worth of assets have been seized to date, which leaves a substantial portion of the sum still unidentified.

The Salameh Papers - The National uncovers details on allegations against Lebanon banking chief

The Salameh Papers - The National uncovers details on allegations against Lebanon banking chief

Exclusive documents from the Monaco judiciary exposed the flow of funds from Raja's accounts at Julius Baer Monaco, which received millions of dollars in alleged Forry embezzled funds, then funnelled to his accounts in the US.

In a judicial decision, French judge Aude Buresi stressed that “the diverted funds are believed to have been transferred” and “laundered” through real estate investments in “Europe, the United States and Lebanon”.

While we have no detailed information on the Lebanese properties, French judicial documents seen by The National reveal that the governor's brother, who is also Forry's owner, is tied to expensive real estate in New York purchased during the period when the central bank had a contract with Forry.

The Salamehs' US real estate

While Europe appears as the first choice for Riad Salameh's real estate portfolio, whether in the name of his romantic partner or children, it seems that the US stands as the prime destination for Raja Salameh's investments.

Raja Salameh is alleged to be the sole associate in Wall Street Properties Limited, a Jersey-based company that holds all the shares of the company Screen Property Corporation, according to the document.

Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, has yet to enforce public disclosure of beneficial owners, despite committing to creating a public register in 2019 in line with EU standards.

In 2013, Screen Property Corporation, based in the US, acquired a luxurious apartment in a 42-storey building on Wall Street in Manhattan, right at the centre of America's main financial district, for $1.4 million.

Raja Salameh also holds shares in a Jersey-based company that indirectly owns a $3 million property bought in 2014 at 93 Worth Street, in the prime neighbourhood of Tribeca in Manhattan.

The company, called Caliber Properties Limited, with a 45 per cent ownership by Raja Salameh, was created solely to hold the shares of Caliber NY Property Corporation, an American company. Caliber NY Property Corporation, in turn, holds the property in Manhattan.

The remaining shares are divided between Kamal Tabet, Raja Salameh's cousin, with a 45 per cent stake, and Mona Issa El Khoury, his sister, with a 10 per cent stake.

Ms El Khoury's son, Marwan Issa El Khoury, a director and legal representative of several Salameh-owned entities that are implicated in the alleged money laundering scheme, is also alleged to be the legal representative of the two Jersey-based companies and the director of the two US companies, according to the document.

Mr Issa El Khoury responded to The National's queries with a letter. Mona Issa El Khoury also responded to us with a letter.

According to banking documents obtained by The National, Caliber NY Property Corporation has an account at Interaudi Bank, whose beneficial owners are Raja Salameh and Mr Tabet.

The Monaco judiciary found out that Raja Salameh transferred a total of $1.3 million from his Monaco bank account, which was opened in 2012 at Julius Baer, to his personal US account at Interaudi Bank a year before the initial purchase took place.

His Monaco accounts received $1.6 million from his Swiss account at HSBC, which was funded exclusively by Forry.

“It cannot be ruled out that the funds in Raja Salameh's Swiss account may have an illicit origin”, according to the Monaco document.

Both Ms Issa El Khoury and Mr Tabet told The National the funding came from their personal savings.

Mr Tabet, a banker, “had a stellar and highly lucrative professional career in the US and Europe”, his lawyer Michael Haddad told The National.

“It is only through his hard work, professional success and investing experience that Mr Tabet earned the resources to build up his wealth and property portfolio”, he added.

He stressed that the three investors involved in the New York purchase are “independent " and just happened “to have a family relationship”.

Raja Salameh failed to respond to request for comment from The National.

In the past, he has denied any wrongdoing, presenting Forry's activities as those of a legitimate broker.

The European judiciary did not uncover evidence of any actual operational activities.

A family affair

But Raja Salameh also possesses properties in Europe that have not previously been identified in the media.

On October 21, 2021, at 6.30am, six French police officers arrived unannounced at his residence in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

They conducted a surprise raid on his apartment, resulting in his immediate detention for 24 hours. This incident has not been previously reported.

Raja Salameh, declared as “unemployed” in the hearing's minutes seen by The National, was subjected to hours of interrogation by the French police concerning the legitimacy of his French property purchases in relation to his declared income.

Among the assets under suspicion is an apartment purchased in 2013 on Avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th arrondissement. Raja Salameh, together with his wife, Nada Boustani, 61, and three children, Emile, Raya, and Karim, acquired this property for a total of €3.6 million.

Raja Salameh told the police that he paid his share without taking a loan.

According to Raja Salameh, the children financed their share through loans from a Lebanese bank. These loans were subsequently repaid a few years later by “a family member”, Raja Salameh told the police, “maybe by myself or my spouse”.

Additionally, in 2011, Raja Salameh's children bought an apartment on Avenue Raymond Poincare in the 16th arrondissement for €1.2 million.

At that time, the youngest child was 18.

Raja Salameh said to the police that the children obtained a loan from a Lebanese bank, which was also repaid by him or his spouse.

In 2013, the children granted Raja Salameh and his spouse the “usufruct” rights to one quarter of the property. This means the legal right to use and derive benefits from it.

Following a division of assets, the real estate properties were allocated to their daughter, who was 26 years old at the time. As compensation to her two brothers, she paid €376,250.

Raja Salameh told the police he does not know how his daughter repaid her brother in this matter.

Nada Boustani and Raya, Emile and Karim Salameh did not respond to The National's request for comment.

These apartments have been rented out since their purchase for approximately €4,000 per month – with the exception of a two-and-a-half-year period, because of unpaid rent.

Raja Salameh, while being questioned by French police in relation to a money laundering investigation concerning his family's investments, complained that he “had to file an eviction case in court to have her removed”.

“To this day, [the tenant] has not reimbursed me”, he added.

Raja Salameh told the police that he also owns two companies, the names of which he had “forgotten”, which own a dozen studios and apartments in London, all rented.

The National could not identify these properties.

His hearing with the police suggests that his role as the manager of Forry, which he said he established after serving as a representative for Republic National Bank of New York from 1985 to 2003, was his primary source of income.

Monaco judicial documents also show transfers between Raja Salameh and his son, Emile, from one of the Monaco accounts which received Forry funds.

Following the 2021 hearing, Raja Salameh was released without charges.

He failed to appear at his hearing in France this year for medical reasons. It was scheduled right after the French judiciary issued an arrest warrant for his brother, Riad Salameh.

Updated: August 02, 2023, 11:07 AM