France’s financial prosecutor has opened an investigation into Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salamé, becoming the second European country to probe the banker’s affairs in foreign affairs.
The National Parquet Funder (PNF) said its investigation began in late May and that it will examine allegations of conspiracy and money laundering within the framework of an organized group.
The move comes after two anti-corruption groups lodged separate complaints with French authorities asking them to examine whether Salamé had transferred “ill-gotten gains” out of Lebanon in the face of a banking crisis that began in 2019 and prevented millions of citizens have access to its funds.
Complaints by Accountability Now and Sherpa say Salamé, three family members and an associate at the Lebanese central bank have used illegal means to build a “rich heritage” in Europe.
France has followed Switzerland’s federal prosecutor to examine Salamé’s overseas assets, insisting they are legitimate investments made with money he earned as a banker from Merrill Lynch before becoming governor of the central bank in 1993. Swiss he began investigated last year, which revolve around it some $ 300m which was transferred from accounts held in the central bank of Lebanon to accounts in Switzerland.
Salamé’s lawyer in France dismissed what he described as a “preliminary” investigation that was “at this stage, only a communication operation or a policy”.
Salamé denies any wrongdoing.
The investigations pose a challenge to Salamé’s reputation, which for years has been credited with establishing the Lebanese economy in the face of political turmoil and regional conflicts. His legacy was exploited by his highly criticized treatment of monetary policy during the severe economic crisis. Yet, in the absence of political leadership, Salamé’s role in Lebanon has only become more critical. The World Bank has gone so far as to call the Banque du Liban “almost an exclusive political decision-maker.”
Lebanon is suffering from a historic economic crisis, based on decades of poor governance and corruption but exacerbated by the pandemic and the recent Beirut port disaster. The World Bank last week said the bank crash was “likely to rank among the top 10, perhaps the top three” financial crises since the mid-19th century, after Lebanon’s economic output fell by about 55 percent. billion dollars in 2018 to only 33 billion dollars in 2020.
Stéphane de Navacelle, a Parisian lawyer specializing in white-collar crime, said the investigation was similar to previous ones in which French investigators had examined France-based assets of foreign officers to determine if they were being obtained illegally.
“The PNF is acting on its word to tackle the potential crime that has a link to France,” de Navacelle said. “The country is increasingly pleased to take a direction in the application when it comes to tracking down poorly acquired goods in cross-border cases.”
In 2017, the PNF took the assets of Teodorin Obiang, the vice president of Equatorial Guinea, and secured a conviction against him. He took similar actions against the political leaders of Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
France, which ruled Lebanon as a mandate holder after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, had taken the initiative in trying to reach an agreement for a new government among Lebanese politicians.