France launches investigation into the fortune of the governor of the central bank of Lebanon


National Public Prosecutor’s Office of France (PNF) opened a preliminary investigation into the personal fortune of the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salamé, following two complaints lodged last month with the judicial institution which deals exclusively with financial matters.

Riad Salam̩, Governor of the Banque du Liban. (Photo: Wikimedia)This decision, confirmed to the OCCRP by a source familiar with the matter, means that now two official investigations are currently underway by the European authorities Рin France and in Switzerland Рwhile the files have been lodged with the British authorities, including the Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency, and Financial Conduct Authority, by a number of organizations are still under review.

PNF’s investigation cites findings from two OCCRP and Daraj investigations released late last year, according to AFP. The first, released in August, revealed how offshore companies owned by Salame invested in overseas assets worth nearly $ 100 million.

The second, published in December, revealed how a company linked to Salame, which complaints being a French citizen, bought a stake in his son’s London-based wealth management company before selling it to a major Lebanese bank that he regulates.

In January, Swiss authorities requested legal assistance from Lebanon in connection with a criminal investigation into Banque du Liban (BDL) and Salame, and preventively froze much of its remaining cash in Switzerland held in accounts at Pictet, UBS, Credit Suisse, HSBC and Julius Baer. An investigation for “aggravated money laundering” is underway.

In an interview with OCCRP, Zena Wakim, lawyer for the Swiss foundation Accountability Now, which has filed complaints with the French, British and Swiss authorities, described the French approach as “inevitable” in view of the Swiss investigation. , and since the offenses are also linked in France.

“With aggravated money laundering, we are talking about the highest criminal offense in financial crimes, and we are also talking about a network of criminals supporting money laundering. It is therefore not about an individual or an isolated action. It is extremely serious, ”she said.

“Historically, we have never seen Switzerland investigate aggravated money laundering, so the other European states to which the offenses relate cannot say that it is only petty cash and decide not to investigate. “, she added.

Other organizations that initiated the complaints and which have also worked closely with civil society actors, activists and lawyers in Lebanon include Sherpa, the French-based anti-corruption NGO, and the firm of London lawyers Guernica37.

Wakim explained that filings are increasingly coordinated between different groups filing complaints against Salame.

“Although these started as separate initiatives, there is closer coordination between all the players,” she said, explaining that when cases are filed on the same topic, they are often merged into one. legal matter.

Salame has consistently dismissed the allegations against him as “fabrications and false news”. On Sunday, his lawyer would have Told Reuters that the latest allegations were a politically motivated “communications operation”.

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