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Lebanon's cenbank chief stays away from corruption hearing -state media

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Lebanese central bank chief Riad Salameh did not attend on Thursday a judicial hearing he was summoned to last week after being charged with corruption, prompting the judge to schedule a new hearing in June, state media reported.

Salameh has denied the corruption charges when contacted by Reuters, saying he had ordered what he called an audit of his accounts which showed public funds were not a source of his wealth.

The governor of nearly three decades, who has faced increased scrutiny since Lebanon's 2019 financial implosion, previously declined to provide the document to Reuters.

Salameh had the legal right to skip Thursday's session and have his lawyer present a defense, lawyer Nizar Saghieh of watchdog NGO Legal Agenda told Reuters.

At Thursday's hearing a lawyer for Salameh presented a preliminary defence of his client against charges of illicit enrichment brought by prosecutor Ghada Aoun last week.

Salameh did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Days earlier, his younger brother Raja was arrested and formally charged with helping Salameh launder the proceeds of ill-gotten gains in a case Aoun said was related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including to the central bank.

A lawyer for Raja previously said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded. He called the evidence "media speculation without any evidence".

The governor's wealth is also being investigated in at least five European countries, sparked by a Swiss probe into alleged embezzlement of $330 million at the central bank.

Five European countries, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium on Monday froze 120 million euros in assets that German prosecutors said was tied to the embezzlement probe.

The 71-year-old has previously attributed his wealth to investments he made while a banker at Merrill Lynch before he became governor in 1993.

(Reporting by Enas Alashray and Timour Azhari; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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