Lebanese judge charges central bank chief with corruption

Mar 21, 2022, 5:46 AM | Updated: 7:24 am

BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese judge said Monday she has charged the country’s central bank governor with illegal enrichment and money laundering during Lebanon’s economic meltdown.

Ghada Aoun, an investigative judge at Mount Lebanon district court, told The Associated Press that Gov. Riad Salameh’s brother, Raja Salameh, who was detained last week, was also charged with taking part in the crimes.

Aoun also ordered that the brother’s assets be frozen.

The move came as the banking sector went on a two-day strike Monday to protest recent moves by Lebanon’s judiciary against local lenders. Lebanon’s economic crisis erupted in 2019 — the worst in its modern history.

The protest by the banks came after Aoun last week froze the assets of six of Lebanon’s largest banks and those of their board of directors as she investigates possible transfers of billions of dollars abroad as they imposed informal capital controls.

Aoun said that the Salameh brothers and Ukrainian citizen Anna Kosakova had formed three illusive companies in France to buy property there. Aoun said last week that Riad Salameh had used his brother to buy real estate in France worth nearly $12 million.

Kosakova, who lives in France, reportedly has a daughter from Salameh.

Riad Salameh, who has headed the central bank for three decades, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He did not show up Monday morning for questioning by Aoun. Raja Salameh, who was detained Thursday, will remain in custody.

The judge’s charges stem from a lawsuit filed against the Salamehs by a group of lawyers who accuse the governor of corruption.

In January, Aoun imposed a travel ban and froze some of the assets of the 71-year-old governor. He is also being investigated in several European nations, including Switzerland and France, for potential money laundering and embezzlement.

Riad Salameh had steered Lebanese finances since 1993, through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. Once praised as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, he has drawn increasing scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019.

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Lebanese judge charges central bank chief with corruption