BEIRUT – Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh answered questions from Lebanon’s public prosecutor on Thursday based on a request from Swiss investigators looking into allegations of money laundering and embezzlement linked to the bank.
Salameh said in a statement he had told Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat that he stood “ready to answer any questions” and no financial transfers had been made from central bank accounts.
The Swiss attorney general’s office has not said whether Salameh is a suspect or not. On Thursday, it said it had no further comment at present.
A senior Lebanese judicial source told Reuters Salameh had been questioned, but not as a suspect, and had decided to accept the option to respond to further questions directly to Swiss authorities.
“Salameh decided to be questioned in Switzerland as the Swiss (request) gives him the option, and he will appoint a lawyer to follow up on the case,” the source said.
Salameh has led Lebanon’s central bank since 1993. His role came under scrutiny after the country’s financial system collapsed in an unprecedented crisis in 2019 that prompted a crash in the Lebanese pound and a sovereign default.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said this week it had requested legal assistance from Lebanon in the context of a probe into “aggravated money laundering” and possible embezzlement tied to the Lebanese central bank.
A Lebanese government official told Reuters that Swiss authorities were investigating money transfers by Salameh and also looking into his brother Raja and an adviser, Marianna Al-Hoayek .
Salameh’s statement said he met the prosecutor, answered questions sent on behalf of the Swiss and “asserted to him that any transfers were not made from the Lebanese central bank’s accounts”.
Details of the inquiry have not been revealed.
A source familiar with the case has told Reuters the Swiss asked Lebanese authorities via the embassy to ask Salameh, his brother and assistant “specific questions” about transfers abroad in recent years that amount to nearly $350 million.
But according to analysts Salameh is not denying money was transferred to Swiss banks . All he is denying is that the money is not from the “Central bank accounts “. The analysts also claim that hundreds of billions Dollars looted by the ruling elite are stashed in foreign banks and Salameh must know about every one of these transactions
A judicial source with knowledge of the hearing told Al Jazeera that Salameh had informed the prosecutor he established a company in Switzerland with his brother Raja some 20 years ago and had made transfers to that company since 2002, amounting to a total of around $240m, rather than the $400m reported.
The prosecutor will reportedly request the central bank to provide the records of these transfers, including the amount and date of each transaction, before it replies to the Swiss attorney general, the source added.
Once regarded as a pillar of stability in crisis-prone Lebanon, Salameh’s reputation has been tarnished by the country’s unprecedented financial crisis, which began in late 2019, according to Al Jazeera
(Reuters) / (Al Jazeera )