BEIRUT – A Lebanese judge questioned the country’s embattled central bank governor Wednesday and confiscated his Lebanese and French passports following an arrest warrant from France over corruption charges, judicial officials said.
Riad Salameh left immediately after questioning by Judge Imad Kabalan in Beirut, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The questioning lasted about 80 minutes, they said.
France, Germany and Luxembourg are investigating Salameh and his associates over myriad alleged financial crimes, including illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million. A French investigative judge on May 16 issued an international arrest warrant, followed by an Interpol red notice, for the 72-year-old Salameh after he failed to show up in Paris for questioning.
On Wednesday, a German delegation visited the judiciary headquarters in Beirut and handed over five arrest warrants issued in Germany for Salameh and four others over corruption charges, the officials said. They did not reveal the name of the four others.
Now that Salameh’s passports have been confiscated, Lebanon’s public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat will formally ask France to hand over the governor’s case files to decide on future measures against Salameh.
Lebanese officials have been divided on whether Salameh should stay in his post until his term ends in July or whether he should step down immediately. Lebanon does not hand over its citizens to foreign countries and the case will be overseen in Lebanon.
Judicial officials said earlier this week that once Oueidat receives the case files from France, he will decide whether Salameh should face justice in Lebanon.
In 2020, the Lebanese prosecution received two Interpol red notices for tycoon Carlos Ghosn, who faced financial misconduct charges in Japan. Ghosn remains in Lebanon.
Salameh, who holds dual Lebanese and French citizenship, has repeatedly denied all corruption allegations, saying he made his wealth from his years working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments. He said he would only resign if convicted of a crime. He also said last week he plans to appeal the Interpol red notice.
Salameh has held his post for almost 30 years, but says he intends to step down after his current term ends in July.
The three European governments in March 2022 froze over $130 million in assets linked to the probe. During a visit to Lebanon in March, the European delegation questioned Salameh about the Lebanese central bank’s assets and investments outside the country, a Paris apartment owned by the governor, and his brother’s brokerage firm.
Once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, Salameh since has been heavily blamed for Lebanon’s financial meltdown. Many say he precipitated the economic crisis, which has plunged three-quarters of Lebanon’s population of 6 million into poverty.