Lebanese judge charges central bank governor with illicit enrichment

By Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) -A Lebanese decide charged central financial institution governor Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment on Monday, the primary cost introduced towards the veteran governor whose wealth can be being probed by authorities in no less than 5 European international locations.

Choose Ghada Aoun advised Reuters the case associated to the acquisition and rental of Paris residences, together with some to the central financial institution.

Salameh, governor for almost three many years, denied the cost final week when contacted by Reuters, saying he had ordered an audit which confirmed public funds weren’t a supply of his wealth.

Salameh, 71, has beforehand attributed his wealth to the funding of cash made whereas he was a banker at Merrill Lynch earlier than he turned governor in 1993.

His tenure has confronted elevated scrutiny because the monetary system imploded in 2019, essentially the most destabilising disaster since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil struggle.

The cost seems to be set to exacerbate political tensions between Salameh’s highly effective backers and opponents in a state riven by sectarian and factional vested pursuits.

Choose Aoun stated Salameh had not attended a listening to scheduled for Monday and she or he had charged him in absentia. She had referred the case to an investigative decide and it might be as much as him as as to whether to subject an arrest warrant, she stated.

Final week, Aoun charged Salameh’s brother Raja in the identical case and ordered him arrested, since when he has been in detention.

On Friday, Raja Salameh’s lawyer stated allegations of illicit enrichment and cash laundering towards his consumer had been unfounded. He referred to as the proof “media hypothesis with none proof”.

Choose Aoun imposed a journey ban on Riad Salameh in January.

In February, she issued a subpoena for him after he didn’t attend three hearings as a witness in investigations into his alleged misconduct on the central financial institution. However safety personnel who sought to carry him to a listening to had been unable to find him.

Nizar Saghieh, government director of non-profit watchdog The Authorized Agenda, stated he anticipated renewed efforts by Salameh’s backers in authorities to derail the case.

“We actually are within the coronary heart of a battle towards impunity,” he advised Reuters.


As a part of her investigation, Choose Aoun has homed in on a Paris constructing situated on the Champs Elysees, two judicial sources acquainted with the investigation stated. The judicial sources stated the constructing caught the eye of prosecutors as a result of, in keeping with lease contracts seen by Reuters, it homes workplace area rented by the Lebanese central financial institution since 2010.

The judicial sources stated the places of work had been additionally of curiosity to prosecutors as a result of they’re managed by a lady named Anna Kosakova, with whom the governor has had an out-of-wedlock daughter, in keeping with a start certificates seen by Reuters.

Choose Aoun stated she had charged Kosakova with complicity in illicit enrichment within the case – the identical because the cost made towards Raja Salameh.

The judicial sources stated the lease preparations may represent a case of embezzlement as a result of Riad Salameh and Kosakova could possibly be thought to be a single authorized entity.

Kosakova, a 45-year-old Ukrainian nationwide, did not reply to messages despatched to her Paris rental firm, Eciffice SA.

Salameh didn’t touch upon questions despatched to him by Reuters through WhatsApp concerning the alleged embezzlement and his relationship to Kosakova.

Riad Salameh faces different investigations, together with a Swiss inquiry over alleged aggravated cash laundering on the central financial institution involving $300 million in positive aspects by an organization owned by Raja Salameh.

In November, Riad Salameh denied public cash was used to pay charges and commissions to the corporate, Forry Associates Ltd.

Critics of Choose Aoun accuse her of appearing in step with the political agenda of President Michel Aoun, who appointed her as a prosecutor and whose Free Patriotic Motion needs Salameh faraway from his publish. Choose Aoun and the president should not associated.

Salameh’s backers embrace Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who final week stated some judges had been heightening tensions in Lebanon.

In separate authorized actions, Choose Aoun has frozen the property of six banks this month whereas she investigates transactions they made with the central financial institution. The banking sector has introduced a strike on Monday and Tuesday in protest.

Salameh is a key member of a authorities group that has been in talks with the IMF, although Lebanon has made scant progress in the direction of a rescue deal in additional than two years.

(Extra reporting by Tom Perry, Maya Saad and David Gauthier-Villars; Writing by Tom Perry; Enhancing by Angus MacSwan, Frank Jack Daniel and Rosalba O’Brien)

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