Following the freezing of $120 million by French, Luxembourg and German investigators on charges of embezzlement of public funds against Riad Salamé, all eyes are now on Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Lebanese banks and the public prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, who could be charged with obstruction of justice.
As a reminder, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, himself a bank shareholder, is trying to spare the financial establishments and the governor of the Banque du Liban from the local aspect of the investigations by forming a committee composed of judges and bankers and aiming to bury cases before the courts and thus offer them immunity at the local level.
He reportedly went so far as to invite the Governor of the Banque du Liban to the Council of Ministers scheduled for Wednesday to discuss in his presence the means of strengthening public finances, preventing waste, controlling financial markets and guaranteeing rights of the state, employees, depositors and citizens.
If that were not enough, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the Attorney General of the Republic, Judge Ghassan Oweidat but also the commander of the internal security forces, General Imad Othman, the last 2 being close to former Prime Minister Saad Both Hariri and Riad Salamé prevented the execution of an arrest warrant for the Governor of the Banque du Liban following his absence on several occasions during his summons before the prosecutor of Mount Lebanon, Judge Ghada Aoun , in the context of the Forry Estate file and the assets now frozen in Europe.
The Prime Minister thus grants legitimacy to a man who is the subject of an investigation when even international institutions, according to sources close to them, could not reach an agreement with a person suspected of embezzlement of public funds in the framework of the negotiations carried out, for example, with the International Monetary Fund with a view to releasing the necessary economic aid in the face of the crisis that the country of the cedars is going through, as if in reality Najib Mikati and the banks refused to carry out economic, financial but especially judicial ones who demand the end of practices – generally illegal in many countries – which have enriched them to the detriment of the population, and above all of transparency.
By evoking transparency, the Lebanese banks accuse the local justice of harming their reputation, of removing the little confidence that one could always have in them, accusations taken up by Najib Mikati.
Six Lebanese banks, Banque Audi, Banque Med, SGBL, Banque Al Mawarid, Banque Saradar, BML, are indeed the subject of a request for information from the examining magistrate Jean Tannous concerning transfers suspects of the accounts of the governor of the Banque du Liban who acts himself at the request of the Swiss, French and Luxembourg investigators. However, they take refuge behind banking secrecy, which would not however be valid in the event of accusation of embezzlement.
However, it is quite the opposite. Obstruction of justice, as demonstrated by the facts of a prime minister who went so far as to threaten to resign in the event of the arrest of a governor of the Banque du Liban, the refusal by the ISF to execute the arrest warrant targeting the banks, the refusal of the public prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat to allow judge Jean Tannous to cooperate in the case of the European investigators, the refusal of the same prosecutor supported by the Prime Minister who went so far as to compare the descent of police officers at the headquarters of Lebanese banks in order to obtain information concerning the transfers abroad of the Salamé brothers and others, constitute so much proof for the international community that the Lebanese political-banco-mafia system is trying to hamper the risk.
This would also have justified the receipt by the public prosecutor of a letter from his foreign counterparts, accusing him of obstructing justice. Ghassan Oweidat may justify himself by considering the issue sensitive and supporting public stability, he acts all the same by showing that his role is not independent of political power.
A local consequence, now also under the sights of European justice for their lack of cooperation, the Lebanese banks – already “victims” according to them of lawsuits by depositors residing in certain European countries in order to obtain the release of their deposits frozen since the imposition of informal capital controls – could also be faced with decisions to freeze assets until the information requested by the European courts in the Salamé case is obtained.