Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

French justice called to look into the fortune of the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon

Written by Eric Apim on Tuesday, May 4th 2021 à 14:35 | Read 1125 times

Riad Salamé has been governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon since 1993 (photo: BDL)
Riad Salamé has been governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon since 1993 (photo: BDL)
LEBANON / FRANCE. At the heart of a complaint against X for alleged acts of "money laundering", "handling of stolen goods", "fraud", "deceptive business practices", "criminal association" and "lack of justification of resources", committed in Lebanon and outside the country, Riad Salamé, his family and his close friends could have to explain themselves to the French justice.

Governor of the Bank of Lebanon (BDL) since August 1st 1993, the seventy year old man is under the radar of the NGO Sherpa and the association Collectif des Victimes des Pratiques Frauduleuses et Criminelles au Liban (Collective of the Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon), which is at the origin of a seizure by the French National Financial Prosecutor's Office. For the two lawyers in charge of the case, William Bourdon (founder of Sherpa) and Amélie Lefebvre - who do not lead the investigation directly against Riad Salamé, but believe that he is a pivotal figure in it - justify the jurisdiction of French courts for two reasons: several victims and some of the accused have French nationality (editor's note: including Riad Salamé) and the offenses were committed in France.
The Lebanese press mentions the names of Nady Salamé, son of Riad Salamé, and his nephew Marwan Issa el-Khoury, as well as the brother of the governor, Raja Salamé, and his assistant at the BDL, Marianne Howayek.


Property worth several million euros

In a statement dated Monday, May 3, 2021, Sherpa said that "The complaint filed (Editor's note: Friday, April 30, 2021) is not only related to the facts of money laundering in connection with the outsourcing of considerable capital from the crisis of autumn 2019, but also the suspicious conditions under which have been acquired by Lebanese private or public officials in recent years on French territory of real estate sometimes very luxurious. The offences concern properties "worth several million euros", according to Laura Rousseau, one of Sherpa's leaders, interviewed by Reuters. The governor's fortune "far exceeds the amount of salaries and wages from his known political and professional activities," the two lawyers added.

Responding to the same news agency on Monday, May 3, 2021, Riad Salamé defended himself. According to him, the assets in question were acquired before he took office at the Central Bank of Lebanon. "For financial judges around the world, the use of offshores and shell companies raises questions, especially when you head the institution of regulation and control of the financial system," comment the two lawyers. They accuse the governor of not having played his role of "guardian of the financial and banking order".

The NGO indicates that "the final objective of this procedure of ill-gotten gains is the restitution of the assets to the Lebanese population that was robbed and the fight against corruption". And it announces that "Sherpa expects the National Financial Prosecutor's Office to establish the responsibilities of the various Lebanese dignitaries, but also of the financial and banking intermediaries, notably French or not, likely to be involved in the denounced facts, whose actions, by their premeditated and systematic character, are directly linked to the humanitarian disaster that the Lebanese people are experiencing today".

Investigation also in Switzerland and Lebanon

An investigation has already been opened in Switzerland in early January 2021 directly involving Riad Salamé, his assistant and his brother. As part of a request for legal assistance from this country, the governor had been questioned by the Lebanese Attorney General, on alleged money transfers to the Swiss Confederation ($330 million of "embezzlement to the detriment of BDL" and "aggravated money laundering"). At the time, Riad Salamé complained of "being a scapegoat." In a television interview with France 24, he calculated that "$2.6 billion had left the country since October 2020, including $1.6 billion for banks and $1 billion for Lebanese." According to him, "during the last twelve months, the Lebanese withdrew about $30bn from the accounts in the banks." At the end of November 2020, the firm Alvarez & Marsal gave up conducting the forensic audit of the BDL - necessary to release the international funds - citing a problem of access "to the information and documents necessary to start implementing its mission."

The Lebanese justice is also interested in "bank transfers made by the Bank of Lebanon on behalf of the company Forry Associated Ltd in Switzerland (Editor's note: the economic beneficiary would be Raja Salamé) and on all the circuit that has resulted," reveals the judge Jean Tannous to the newspaper Commerce du Levant.

In 2020, Lebanon was ranked 149th out of 180 countries surveyed by the NGO Transparency International on the criteria of corruption.
The country has been in default since March 2020, the rate of its currency, the Lebanese pound, has been plummeting against the U.S. dollar, while Lebanon has the third largest debt in the world.


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