Lebanon central bank chief snubs European investigators
Lebanon's under-fire central bank governor Riad Salameh failed to appear Wednesday before European investigators, with his legal team claiming the hearing would have been "in conflict with national sovereignty", a judicial source said.
Salameh, 72, is part of the Lebanese political class widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and which the World Bank has dubbed one of the planet's worst in recent history.
He faces accusations including alleged embezzlement in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad, with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job. He denies all the allegations.
Salameh had been summoned to appear at Beirut's justice palace on Wednesday morning but objected to the session and instead sent a legal representative, the judicial official told AFP on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the media.
The objection charged that "the presence of international judges in Lebanon and the investigation into the financial matters is in conflict with national sovereignty", the official added.
The Lebanese judiciary on Wednesday rejected the claim, finding that the presence of the international team "is not in conflict with Lebanese law and does detract from Lebanese sovereignty", according to the official.
The session was postponed and Lebanese judge Charbel Abu Samra instead summoned Salameh to appear on Thursday at 10:30 am (0830 GMT), the official added.
France, Germany and Luxembourg in March last year seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to a French probe into Salameh's personal wealth.
The European investigation is probing suspected financial misconduct, including possible money laundering and embezzlement.
- Around 100 questions -
The delegation has submitted some 100 questions to judge Abu Samra, who for procedural reasons would do the questioning in the presence of European officials, a second judicial source told AFP.
Salameh would appear "as a witness" and would not be charged or arrested, the second official said, adding the central bank chief could face several days of questioning.
In January, the European investigators interviewed banking officials in Beirut about the transfer of funds to countries where Salameh has significant assets.
They also examined the central bank's ties to Forry Associates Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company that listed Salameh's brother as its beneficiary.
Forry is suspected of having brokered Lebanese treasury bonds and Eurobonds at a commission, which was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts abroad.
Salameh has rarely appeared before the judiciary, despite numerous complaints and summonses.
Last month, Lebanese authorities charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of a local probe.
His brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoayek have also been charged.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese state filed a separate complaint against trio for "bribery, forgery, money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax evasion", the first judicial official told AFP.
The complaint requests the three be arrested, their property seized and their bank accounts frozen in Lebanon and abroad, according to the source, as well as the accounts of their spouses and minor children.
Lebanon opened an investigation into Salameh's assets in 2021, after a request for assistance from Switzerland's public prosecutor probing more than $300 million in fund movements by the governor and his brother.