Lebanon arrests troubled central bank chief’s brother

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese authorities on Thursday arrested the brother of the country’s central bank governor on suspicion of money laundering and illicit enrichment, the official news agency reported.

According to the National News Agency report, Ghada Aoun, an investigating judge at the Mount Lebanon District Court, interrogated Raja Salameh for several hours before placing him under arrest. The complaint against Salameh was filed by a group of lawyers who accuse him of corruption.

The decision comes two months after the same judge imposed a travel ban and froze some assets of central bank governor Riad Salameh, 71, accused of corruption and neglect of duty during the unprecedented economic crisis in the Lebanon.

The central bank governor is also under investigation in several European countries, including Switzerland and France, for potential money laundering and embezzlement.

Riad Salameh had led Lebanese finances for nearly three decades, through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. Once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, he has come under increasing scrutiny since the small country’s economic collapse began in late 2019.

Local media have reported in recent months that the governor, his brother and an aide transferred money overseas despite capital controls imposed in the country, a charge the governor denied.

The judge did not respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. A local channel, Al-Jadeed TV, quoted Aoun as saying that Riad Salameh used his brother to buy property in France worth nearly $12 million.

It was also reported that a brokerage firm, Forry Associates Ltd, owned by Raja Salameh, has been hired to handle sales of government bonds by the central bank in which the company received $330 million in commissions. . The governor said last November that “not a penny of public money” was used to pay Forry Associates Ltd.

Also on Thursday, Judge Aoun froze the assets of local lender Creditbank, her latest such measure against local banks. On Monday, it froze the assets of five of Lebanon’s biggest banks and those of their boards of directors as it investigated possible transfers of billions of dollars abroad.

Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls since the onset of the economic crisis. Since then, people have not had full access to their savings, and those who withdraw money from US dollar accounts get an exchange rate that is much lower than the black market.

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