Lebanon crisis

European investigators to return to Lebanon in central bank governor fraud case

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European investigators will return to Beirut in April to question two key people who have been charged in Lebanon in a case involving alleged fraud by Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh, two sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Reuters.

Lebanon and at least five European countries are investigating whether Salameh and his brother Raja Salameh took more than $300 million from the central bank between 2002 and 2015.

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The Salameh brothers deny the allegations against them, saying the money was earned legally. The governor, who has held the post for three decades, says he is being made a scapegoat for Lebanon’s financial crisis that erupted in 2019.

A team of investigators from Germany, France and Luxembourg previously questioned witnesses in Lebanon in January and last month Salameh was interrogated by them in Beirut during two separate sessions. They have not announced any charges.

The European investigators have now asked Lebanese judicial authorities for meetings with Raja Salameh and Marianne Howayek, an assistant, a senior judicial official and a source who is closely following the proceedings told Reuters on Wednesday.

The three have been charged in Lebanon with embezzlement, illicit enrichment and money laundering in two separate cases but have not been detained.

Howayek’s lawyer declined to comment on Wednesday.

The European investigators are due to arrive in Beirut on April 24.

Lebanon’s judiciary had scheduled a hearing with Salameh on Thursday as part of the two local probes into his wealth but the governor’s lawyer has objected on procedural grounds, the two sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

Salameh’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

The governor enjoyed strong backing from Lebanese elites in his three decades as central bank chief, during which the central bank 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.

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