European investigators interrogate assistant of Lebanon’s central bank governor

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European investigators in Beirut questioned an assistant to Lebanon’s central bank governor on Thursday as part of a probe into whether the governor embezzled and laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, local media and a judicial source said.

Governor Riad Salameh is being investigated in Lebanon and in at least five European countries over allegedly taking more than $300 million from the central bank together with his brother over more than a decade.

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Marianne Houayek, 42 and a longtime assistant to the governor, was scheduled to be questioned as a suspect, according to a schedule for the European investigators seen by Reuters.

A lawyer for Houayek did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, and neither have replied to any such requests from media so far.

The Salameh brothers have both denied wrongdoing. Riad Salameh says he is being made a scapegoat for Lebanon’s financial crisis that erupted in 2019.

A French court document seen by Reuters says up to $5 million euros from the central bank ultimately went to Houayek via accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Houayek is also mentioned in a 2021 Swiss request for legal assistance from Lebanese authorities, in which Swiss authorities allege she was the beneficiary of funds that were diverted from the central bank to the detriment of the Lebanese state.

The European investigators questioned the governor in Beirut in March and returned on Monday for further hearings.

They were set to question the governor’s brother Raja Salameh as part of the probe on both Tuesday and Wednesday, but he did not attend and his lawyer said he would be unavailable for one week due to health reasons.

The governor, his brother and Houayek have been charged with financial crimes in two separate cases in Lebanon but have not yet been formally and publicly charged in the investigating European countries.

The European investigators are also set to question caretaker finance minister Youssef el-Khalil, who still serves as the central bank’s head of financial operations, as well as other top officials of the bank.

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