France has opened an investigation into the personal fortune of Riad Salameh, head of the central bank of Lebanon in crisis, following a similar decision by Switzerland. He is believed to have transferred money overseas during a 2019 uprising, when ordinary people were prevented from doing so.
The Paris financial prosecutor’s office has opened a preliminary investigation for criminal conspiracy and money laundering by Salameh, a source close to the investigation and a judicial source said.
His findings could shed light on the origins of the wealth of 70-year-old former banker Merrill Lynch.
In office since 1993 and once hailed by political and economic leaders, Salameh has been repeatedly accused by the government of interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab of being responsible for the collapse of the Lebanese pound.
Lebanon has since been hit by an economic crisis which, according to the World Bank, is one of the worst since the 19th century.
Close to the powerful Hariri family, Salameh has been under investigation for months in Switzerland on suspicion of serious money laundering and embezzlement of Banque du Liban funds.
He also owns several properties in France and may have transferred money through the country.
One of the criminal complaints that prompted French prosecutors to get involved came from the Swiss foundation Accountability Now, a French daily The world reported.
Another was filed by an anti-financial crime group Sherpa and by the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, set up by savers devastated by the post-2019 crisis.
The French decision marks the start of “a mega-universal inquiry across Europe”, declared William Bourdon and Amélie Lefebvre, lawyers for Sherpa and the collective of savings.
Country on its knees
“Huge money laundering operations will be examined, which should open every corner of the mafia which brought Lebanon to its knees,” they hope.
Their criminal complaint, seen by the French news agency AFP, accuses Salameh and his relatives – his brother Raja, his son Nadi, a nephew and a central bank employee – of fraudulently building up a vast fortune in Europe.
The groups urge the justice system to investigate the massive flight of capital from Lebanon since the start of the crisis, as well as real estate purchases out of proportion to buyers’ incomes and the roles played by financial intermediaries, tax havens and financial institutions. straw men.
On the basis in particular of reports from the Lebanese site Daraj.com and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the complainants estimate that Salameh’s total world wealth amounts to more than 1.64 billion euros.
He disputes this figure, claiming that his assets have come from inheritances, his banking career and legitimate investments since taking office in 1993.
The investigation by French prosecutors is the latest in a series of investigations into the “ill-gotten gains” of foreign leaders – particularly from Africa or the Middle East.