BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s public prosecutor Monday summoned the country’s embattled central bank governor for questioning following an international arrest warrant issued against him in France over corruption charges, judicial officials said.
Riad Salameh is to answer the summons later this week, although no specific date was given.
France, Germany and Luxembourg are investigating Salameh and his associates over myriad alleged financial crimes, including illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million. A French investigative judge on May 16 issued an international arrest warrant, or Interpol red notice, for the 72-year-old Salameh after he failed to show up in Paris for questioning.
Officials in Beirut said that Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat will formally ask France to hand over the governor’s case files to decide on future measures against Salameh.
Asked whether it is possible to hand the former governor over to France, the officials — who spoke on condition of anonymity — said Lebanon does not hand its citizens to foreign countries and the case will be overseen in Lebanon. They added that once Oueidat receives the case files from France, he will decide whether Salameh should face justice in Lebanon or elsewhere.
In 2020, the Lebanese prosecution received two Interpol red notices for tycoon Carlos Ghosn, who faced financial misconduct charges in Japan. Ghosn remains in Lebanon.
Salameh has repeatedly denied all corruption allegations, saying he made his wealth from his years working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments. He said he would only resign if convicted of a crime. He also said last week he plans to appeal the Interpol red notice.
The officials said French authorities have set May 31, as the day to question Salameh’s brother, Raja, in France and the governor’s close associate Marianne Hoayek on June 13.
Reports have circulated that the Lebanese central bank had hired Forry Associates Ltd., a brokerage firm owned by Raja, to handle government bond sales from which the firm received $330 million in commissions.
Riad Salameh, a Lebanese-French citizen, has held his post for almost 30 years, but says he intends to step down after his current term ends in July.
The three European governments in March 2022 froze over $130 million in assets linked to the probe. During a visit to Lebanon in March, the European delegation questioned Salameh about the Lebanese central bank’s assets and investments outside the country, a Paris apartment — which the governor owns — and his brother’s brokerage firm.
Once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, Salameh since has been heavily blamed for Lebanon’s financial meltdown. Many say he precipitated the economic crisis, which has plunged three-quarters of Lebanon’s population of 6 million into poverty.