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Lebanon judge arrests central bank head's brother

Lebanon's Central Bank governor Riad Salameh. ©AFP

Beirut (AFP) - A Lebanese judge on Thursday arrested the brother of Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, both of whom are suspected of embezzlement and money laundering, judicial sources said.

Judge Ghada Aoun arrested Raja Salameh "after questioning him for three hours", a court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Riad Salameh himself has so far ignored a warrant issued by Aoun, who is the Mount Lebanon public prosecutor and has turned up the heat on the Salameh brothers and on banks withholding small depositors' savings.

Riad Salameh is widely blamed for policies that have led to the collapse of Lebanon's economy, but he and his brother have also been accused of embezzling money for personal gain.

Aoun referred Raja Salameh to a judge to investigate the brothers on charges of "money laundering, embezzlement, illicit enrichment and smuggling large amounts of money" out of the country.

Aoun had issued an arrest warrant earlier this year against Riad Salameh following a complaint by an activist group over financial misconduct.

A Swiss investigation was also launched last year into the alleged payment by Lebanon's central bank of more than $330 million in brokerage fees to a company whose beneficiary is younger brother Raja.

Salameh, who has held the position of central bank governor since 1993, has consistently accused Aoun of being politically-motivated.

Since Lebanon for the first time defaulted on its foreign debt two years ago, the national currency has lost close to 95 percent of its value against the US dollar and poverty levels have soared to above 80 percent of the population.

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