A European legal team on Friday completed two days of questioning in Beirut of the head of Lebanon’s central bank in a money-laundering probe linked to the governor, officials said.
Several European countries are investigating Governor Riyad Salameh, who has been accused of corruption-related crimes in recent years over money laundering of some $330 million. Salameh, 72, has been the head of the Central Bank of Lebanon since 1993.
According to Lebanese judicial officials, he was questioned for two hours on Friday and six hours the day before. The European delegation – accompanied by representatives from France, Germany and Luxembourg – interrogated Salameh through a Lebanese judge, who was acting as a go-between. Under Lebanese laws, delegates cannot question Salameh directly.
On Thursday, Salameh was questioned about an apartment in Paris rented by the Lebanese Central Bank and Fori Associates Ltd., the officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation’s proceedings. which is a brokerage firm owned by Salameh’s brother, Raja Salameh.
Lebanon’s beleaguered central bank chief attends first corruption hearing in money-laundering probe
Officials said the questions focused mostly on the Central Bank, its assets and investments outside Lebanon.
Salameh later released a statement saying that he answered questions in relation to the law, adding that he was not questioned “as a suspect or an accused”. He also condemned what he described as “bad intentions” against him.
Salameh, who has repeatedly denied allegations of corruption, said, “Nations are not built by lies.”
Officials also said the European team set April 15 as the date to begin questioning Salameh’s brother and an associate, Marianne Hoeck.
Lebanon’s Central Bank governor and two others accused of corruption, embezzlement of public funds
Judge Helena Iskandar, who is representing the Lebanese state at the European inquiry, on Wednesday accused Salameh, his brother and Hoyek of corruption.
In addition to the European investigation, other legal proceedings against Salameh are ongoing in Lebanon. In late February, Beirut’s public prosecutor, Raja Hamoush, charged three corruption suspects with embezzlement of public funds, forgery, illegal enrichment, money-laundering and violating tax laws.
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Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The economic downturn that began in late 2019 is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. More than 75% of this tiny country’s population of 6 million is mired in poverty.
Salameh was once hailed as a guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, but many in the country now hold him responsible for the crisis, citing policies that removed the national debt. However, he still enjoys the support of the country’s top politicians. His term ends in July and he has told local media that he would rather step down than serve another term.
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