Lebanon’s Central Bank chief again charged with corruption

BEIRUT (AP): Lebanon’s Central Bank chief was again charged with corruption on Wednesday, this time after failing to show up for questioning before a European legal team visiting Beirut in a money-laundering probe linked to the governor, officials said.

According to the judicial officials, Gov. Riad Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh and an associate, Marianne Hoayek, were charged with corruption and ordered detained. Their assets were also frozen.

The case is separate from other legal proceedings against Salameh underway in Lebanon. In late February, Beirut’s public prosecutor Raja Hamoush charged the three with corruption, including embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money-laundering, and violation of tax laws.

Judge Helena Iskandar, who is representing the Lebanese state at the questioning in the European probe, filed the charges Wednesday against the governor and the other two others, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

The European delegation — with representatives from France, Germany, and Luxembourg — spent about two hours at Beirut’s Justice Palace waiting for Salameh. The Europeans were to question Salameh through another Lebanese judge, acting as a go-between. Under Lebanese laws, they cannot directly question Salameh.

Salameh’s lawyer showed up and submitted a petition that his client not be questioned by foreign judicial officials. The request was rejected by the prosecutor’s office and a new session was scheduled for Thursday. It remained unclear if Salameh would show up at that time.

It was the European delegation’s second visit to Beirut after a trip in January, when they questioned nine people, including current and former central bank officials, as well as the heads of several banks in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country.

The European delegation is investigating the laundering of some $330 million. The questioning was expected to last until Friday, the judicial officials said.

Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The economic meltdown, which began in October 2019 and is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class, has plunged more than 75 percent of the tiny nation’s population of 6 million into poverty.