By BASSEM MROUE
A European legal team on Friday wrapped up two days of questioning of Lebanon’s Central Bank chief in Beirut in a money-laundering probe linked to the governor, officials said.
Several European countries are investigating Gov. Riad Salameh, who in recent years has been charged with corruption-related crimes, in a case of money laundering of some $330 million. Salameh, 72, has been the head of Lebanon’s Central Bank since 1993.
He was questioned for two hours on Friday and six hours the day before, according to Lebanese judicial officials. The European delegation — with representatives from France, Germany, and Luxembourg — questioned Salameh through a Lebanese judge, acting as a go-between. Under Lebanese laws, the representatives cannot directly question Salameh.
On Thursday, Salameh was questioned about an apartment in Paris rented by Lebanon’s Central Bank and Forry Associates Ltd, a brokerage firm owned by Salameh’s brother, Raja Salameh, the officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe proceedings.
The questions mostly focused on the Central Bank, its assets and investments outside Lebanon, the officials added.
Salameh issued a statement later saying he responded to the questions out of respect to the law, adding that he was not questioned “as a suspect or accused.” He also denounced what he described as “bad intentions” against him.
“Nations are not built on lies,” said Salameh, who has repeatedly denied corruption charges.
The European team set April 15 to start questioning Salameh’s brother and an associate, Marianne Hoayek, the officials also said.
Judge Helena Iskandar, who is representing the Lebanese state in the European questioning, charged on Wednesday Salameh, his brother and Hoayek with corruption.
In addition to the European probe, there are other legal proceedings against Salameh underway in Lebanon. In late February, Beirut’s public prosecutor, Raja Hamoush, charged the same three suspects with corruption, including embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money-laundering and violation of tax laws.
Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The economic meltdown that began in late 2019 is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. More than 75% of the tiny nation’s population of 6 million has been plunged into poverty.
Salameh was once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, but many in the country now hold him responsible for the crisis, citing policies that drove up national debt. He still enjoys backing from the country’s top politicians, however. His term ends in July and he has told local media that he would like to step down from his post instead of pursuing another term.