Lebanon crisis

Lebanon’s Riad Salameh in court for second hearing with European officials: Source

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Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh arrived at court on Friday for a second hearing with European investigators looking into whether he embezzled huge sums of public funds, a senior judicial source said.

Salameh, 72, is being investigated alongside his brother Raja in Lebanon and in at least five European countries over accusations of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars over more than a decade and laundering some of the proceeds abroad.

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The brothers have been charged in two cases in Lebanon and both deny wrongdoing. European officials have yet to charge them.

He says the accusations are part of an attempt to scapegoat him for Lebanon’s financial meltdown.

Salameh arrived at Beirut’s justice palace on Friday morning shortly after European investigators, a judicial source said.

In a six-hour hearing on Thursday, the governor answered nearly 100 questions submitted by the foreign investigators to a Lebanese judge, another senior judicial source told Reuters.

The official said Salameh came without a lawyer and “calmly” responded to queries about Forry Associates, a firm owned by his brother which received commissions from the central bank.

European prosecutors suspect the central bank collected those commissions as a fee from bond buyers and then transferred the funds to Forry.

Salameh for decades enjoyed strong backing from Lebanese elites as he financed a state rife with corruption and enforced policies that earned commercial banks massive profits.

But he has faced increased scrutiny since a 2019 financial crisis resulting from decades of profligate spending, corruption and unsustainable policies by Lebanon’s leaders.

As the Lebanese and European probes converge, some of his long-time allies have moved to distance themselves from him, according to political sources who declined to be identified.

His latest six-year term ends in July and he says he is not interested in staying on - bringing an end to a 30-year tenure that saw him work hand-in-glove with Lebanon’s political elite.

No clear successor has emerged, raising the possibility that the central bank’s vice governor could take over.

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