Corruption complaint filed in France against Lebanese bank governor

Lebanese activists in France file complaint against Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh
3 min read
03 May, 2021
Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh is under scrutiny over alleged corruption and mismanagement.
In the October 2019 massive protests started against the government [Getty]

Activists in France have filed a legal complaint against Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh over alleged corruption and money laundering, according to media reports on Monday.

The case is being led by non-profit organisation Sherpa and a French-Lebanese collective for the victims of fraud, corruption, and criminal practices in Lebanon.

Riad Salemeh, who has led the Central Bank since 1993, has been accused of having illegally constituted "a heritage of several hundred million euros", according to the document sent to the Parquet national financier (PNF), responsible for tracking down and judging serious economic and financial crimes. His brothers and an associate were also targeted by the complaint.

In a statement released on Monday, Sherpa said the aim of the legal procedure was to have assets returned to the Lebanese people.

"The complaint lodged not only targets money laundering in connection with the outsourcing of considerable capital from the fall 2019 crisis, but also the suspicious circumstances under which some very luxurious real estate in France has been acquired by private or public Lebanese officials in recent years," Sherpa said.

The statement referred to massive protests launched in Lebanon in October 2019 against corruption and the country's precarious economic situation, which lasted sporadically until the spring of 2021.

"At the end of this affair, France will have to ensure that ill-gotten funds will be returned to serve the general interest, improve the living conditions of the Lebanese, strengthen the rule of law and fight against corruption," it added.

Sherpa, which specialises in fighting economic crime, worked with victims of corruption inside and outside Lebanon to file the case.

In response to the claims, Salameh told Reuters that all his properties in France were bought before he was nominated to his position as head of Lebanon's Central Bank.

The first complaint was filed on 16 April by the Swiss foundation Accountability Now.

It alleges Salameh embezzled $300 million from the Central Bank for the benefit of his brother Raja Salameh.

Salameh, previously well considered for his policy of parity between the Lebanese pound and the US dollar, is facing criticism from most of the population which view him as responsible for the state's near bankruptcy.

The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value in just two years causing massive inflation of imported goods.

He repeatedly refused to surrender to Judge Ghada Aoun as part of the investigation into his handling of the currency.

The Central Bank is accused of financing programmes for the benefit of certain politicians.

On the other hand, subsidies for essential goods -  a lifeline for many citizens - will end in June due to financial constraints.

Salameh holds French citizenship and such accusations, if led by an investigation, could lead to his arrest if he returns to France.

Lebanon is going through its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 war.

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