Lebanon prosecutor requests charges against central bank chief

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A Lebanese prosecutor probing central bank chief Riad Salameh on suspicion of financial misconduct has requested charges be issued against him based on preliminary investigation findings, a court official said Thursday.

Lebanon opened a probe into Salameh’s wealth last year, after the office of Switzerland’s top prosecutor requested assistance in an investigation into more than $300 million which he allegedly embezzled out of the central bank with the help of his brother.

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On Thursday, prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat “concluded preliminary investigations into the central bank governor,” a court official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

“He transferred the case to the public prosecutor’s office in Beirut and asked the court to charge Salameh, his brother and Salameh’s secretary,” the official added.

The suggested charges include embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, illicit enrichment, tax evasion, fraud and forgery, the court official said.

Lebanon’s courts have already slapped Salameh with a travel ban and are investigating him in connection with several other cases.

Salameh’s brother Raja posted bail of 100 billion Lebanese pounds ($3.7 million) - a record figure - and was freed last month after two months’ detention.

He was arrested on March 17 by order of judge Ghada Aoun on charges of money laundering, embezzlement, illicit enrichment and smuggling large amounts of money out of the country.

Salameh is among the top Lebanese officials widely blamed for an unprecedented financial crisis that the World Bank says is of a scale usually associated with wars.

He also faces lawsuits in European countries, including France and Britain, on charges of financial misconduct.

In March, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized properties and frozen assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a major operation linked to a probe launched by French investigators into Salameh’s personal wealth.

Salameh and his brother have both repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

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