Lebanon set to keep brother of central bank chief charged with money laundering in custody

Lebanon set to keep brother of central bank chief charged with money laundering in custody
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A judge in Lebanon has ordered that the brother of the central bank governor remain under arrest. Riad Salameh and his brother Raja were charged with money laundering on Monday.
Lebanon's central bank governor has been charged with illicit enrichment and money laundering [source: Getty]

A Lebanese judge ordered on Thursday that Raja Salameh, the brother of the central bank governor, remain under arrest after he was charged last week with complicity in illicit enrichment, a judicial source familiar with the decision said.

Governor Riad Salameh has been charged with illicit enrichment in absentia in the same case, related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank.

Riad Salameh has denied the accusations.

A lawyer for Raja Salameh said the charge against his client is unfounded. Raja Salameh's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

The charges against the Salameh brothers were brought by Judge Ghada Aoun, who referred the case to investigating Judge Nicolas Mansour earlier this week.

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Raja Salameh has been in detention since Judge Aoun charged him last week.

At a hearing on Thursday, Judge Mansour ordered Raja Salameh remain in detention, pending the provision of documents that show the source of funds used to buy properties that are under investigation, the source said.

Riad Salameh's tenure has faced increased scrutiny since the financial system imploded in 2019, the most destabilising crisis since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

Riad Salameh faces other investigations, including a Swiss inquiry over alleged aggravated money laundering at the central bank involving $300 million in gains by a company owned by Raja Salameh.

Denying wrongdoing, Riad Salameh said last year that he had ordered an audit that had shown no public funds were used to pay fees and commissions to the company owned by his brother.

Critics of Judge Aoun accuse her of acting in line with the political agenda of President Michel Aoun, who appointed her as a prosecutor and whose Free Patriotic Movement wants Salameh removed from his post. Judge Aoun says she is applying the law.

Riad Salameh still has powerful backers in the Lebanese government, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Mikati on Wednesday proposed inviting the central bank governor to a forthcoming cabinet session, in an apparent show of support.