The judicial noose is inexorably tightening around the governor of the Banque du Liban (BDL), Riad Salamé. Already targeted by investigations in Switzerland, France, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg for embezzlement, financial embezzlement and money laundering, the great treasurer is now the subject of charges for “illicit enrichment” in Lebanon.
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On March 21, the Attorney General at the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal, Ghada Aoun, initiated proceedings against this 71-year-old banker, whose mandate has been renewed without interruption since 1993, but also against his brother, Raja Salamé, against a former companion of Ukrainian nationality, Anna Kosakova, and against three companies, SCI ZEL, Eciffice and BET SA. At the heart of the suspicions are four luxury apartments acquired in Paris as well as the rental of one of these properties to the Banque du Liban.
Suspicious transfers of $330 million
On March 17, the magistrate caused astonishment in Lebanon by arresting the younger brother of the BDL governor, Raja Salamé, after three hours of interrogation on suspicious transfers of 330 million dollars (300 million euros) under a brokerage contract between Banque du Liban and a company registered in the British Virgin Islands of which he is the economic beneficiary.
Riad Salamé has so far refrained from responding to Lebanese justice, despite five successive summonses issued by Ghada Aoun. The action of this anti-corruption magistrate, whom her detractors accuse of acquaintances with the political camp of President Michel Aoun (with whom she has no family ties), comes after a complaint filed by a collective of lawyers, Moutahidoun, who is, according to Lebanese media, close to the presidential camp. These allegations make the governor of the BDL say that the accusations against him are motivated by political calculations.
“Certainly, it would be a major ‘scalp’ that the Free Patriotic Movement (CPL, party founded by Michel Aoun, Editor’s note) would like to be able to offer its voters before the legislative elections of May 15, concedes political scientist Karim Bitar. Nevertheless, there is a very heavy file against Riad Salamé, with investigations opened in several countries that one can hardly accuse of being exploited by the CPL or Hezbollah. If it is true that Judge Aoun has political affinities displayed with the presidential camp, the theory of a cabal or a Hezbollah conspiracy to weaken the banking sector, as Riad Salamé would have us believe, does not hold. »
Other banks in the viewfinder
In Lebanon, where the governor of the Central Bank is considered responsible, like the political class, for the unprecedented financial crisis in which the country is plunged, by a large part of the population, this judicial soap opera with multiple entries questions. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, who affirmed on December 28 that“We don’t change officers during the war”in response to the presidential camp which demanded the sidelining of the boss of the BDL, once again stepped up to the plate.
Accusing March 18 “certain judges” to cause tension in the country, he denounced “populist and police measures (…) for electoral purposes”likely to destabilize the banking system.
Lebanon: how Riad Salamé, Governor of the Central Bank, fell from his pedestal
Because in parallel with the lawsuits against the Salamé clan, other banks are in the sights of the Lebanese justice. On March 14, five of them had their assets frozen by Ghada Aoun, as part of an ongoing investigation into transactions they allegedly carried out with the BDL.
“There is blatant interference in the judiciary, in violation of the principle of the separation of powerscomments Karim Bitar. Najib Mikati, like the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berry, is one of Riad Salamé’s staunchest supporters. This is the man who knew too much, he knows the secrets of the entire financial system, his protection networks are sprawling. »
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In this context, can the proceedings initiated succeed? “For a governor to negotiate with the IMF even though he is suspected of embezzlement, embezzlement, money laundering, in several different countries, is unheard of. The question today is not to know “if”, but “when” he will be ejected and, above all, if his replacement will be part of a more global “package deal” which would see a new President of the Republic, a new parliament and a new governor for the BDL… », observes Karim Bitar.