Investigative judge, police raid Lebanon’s central bank

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A Lebanese investigative judge with security personnel raided the central bank on Tuesday in a divisive investigation against the country’s embattled governor.

Judge Ghada Aoun had been investigating Governor Riad Salameh, and in March charged him with illicit enrichment and money laundering.

A handful of European countries including Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein are also investigating Salameh for alleged money laundering and embezzlement.

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In late March, in an initiative by Germany, France, and Luxembourg, the European Union froze $130 million worth of Lebanese assets belonging to five unnamed Lebanese.

They accused the suspects of embezzling over $330 million and 5 million euros ($5.5 million) respectively between 2002 and 2021. It is widely believed that Riad Salameh and his brother Raja are among them.

Lebanon continues to suffer from a staggering economic crisis that pulled over three-quarters of its population into poverty.

Many hold Salameh responsible for the crisis, citing policies that drove up national debt and caused the Lebanese pound to lose 90 percent of its value against the dollar.

The 71 year-old central bank governor still enjoys backing from post of Lebanon’s political parties, and has been in the post for nearly three decades.

The judge arrived to the central bank headquarters in Beirut with personnel from Lebanese State Security, and entered the premises to try to find Salameh.

Aoun told the press after leaving the premises that she did not find Salameh and was unable to look for him in the building’s offices and storage rooms. “We immediately received a judicial order (to leave),” she said.

State security forces earlier Tuesday raided Salameh’s home, but he was not there.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the raid in a statement, calling it a “brash” move for a sensitive file in the troubled country.

“What is required is to solve this case with a prior political agreement on a central bank governor, and then take the appropriate legal course after," Mikati said.

Judge Aoun has pursued Salameh for months in a divisive investigation. In January, she froze his assets as a “precautionary measure,” after he did not show up for a questioning in a lawsuit filed by a Lebanese anti-corruption group.

She had also charged Salameh’s brother, Raja, for being involved in the formation of three illusive companies in France alongside Ukrainian citizen Anna Kosakova to purchase real estate worth nearly $12 million there. Raja was detained in March and released in May on record bail worth $3.7 billion.

The syndicate for central bank employees announced a three-day strike from Wednesday in protest against the raid, saying in a statement the move “affected the dignity of the Banque du Liban and its employees.”

It called on the government and judicial authorities to “intervene to put an end to these inappropriate behaviors by Judge Ghada Aoun, which deviate from all legal principles” and warned of an open-ended strike if the matter was not addressed.

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