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Lebanese judge charges central bank governor with corruption

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BEIRUT: After the probe for the wealth veteran governor of Lebanese central bank governor by five European countries, a judge has also charge Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment.  

Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun told western media the case related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank.

Salameh, 71, has previously attributed his wealth to the investment of money made while he was a banker at Merrill Lynch before he became governor in 1993.

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

The charge looks set to exacerbate political tensions between Salameh’s powerful backers and opponents in a state riven by sectarian and factional vested interests.

Judge Aoun said Salameh had not attended a hearing scheduled for Monday and she had charged him in absentia. She had referred the case to an investigative judge and it would be up to him as to whether to issue an arrest warrant, she said. 

Last week, Aoun charged Salameh’s brother Raja in the same case and ordered him arrested, since then he has been in detention.

On Friday, Raja Salameh’s lawyer said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded. He called the evidence “media speculation without any evidence”.

Judge Aoun imposed a travel ban on Riad Salameh in January.

In February, she issued a subpoena for him after he failed to attend three hearings as a witness in investigations into his alleged misconduct at the central bank. But security personnel who sought to bring him to a hearing were unable to locate him.

Nizar Saghieh, executive director of non-profit watchdog The Legal Agenda, said he expected renewed efforts by Salameh’s backers in government to derail the case.

“We certainly are in the heart of a battle against impunity,” he said.

As part of her investigation, Judge Aoun has homed in on a Paris building located on the Champs Elysees, two judicial sources familiar with the investigation said. 

Judge Aoun said she had charged Kosakova with complicity in illicit enrichment in the case – the same as the charge made against Raja Salameh. 

In separate legal actions, Judge Aoun has frozen the assets of six banks this month while she investigates transactions they made with the central bank. The banking sector has announced a strike on Monday and Tuesday in protest.

Salameh is a key member of a government team that has been in talks with the IMF, though Lebanon has made scant progress towards a rescue deal in more than two years. 

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