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Asharq Al-Awsat
Asharq Al-Awsat
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat

Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Skips Hearing Session

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. Reuters

Lebanon’s judiciary on Thursday adjourned until June the questioning of Central Bank governor Riad Salameh in a corruption case brought against him on March 21.

A lawyer for Salameh presented a preliminary defense of his client against the charges at Thursday's hearing, Lebanon’s National News Agency said.

“Mount Lebanon First Investigative Judge Nicolas Mansour has adjourned the judicial questioning of Salameh over money laundering and illicit enrichment,” Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said.

The postponement was necessary after Salameh, governor for nearly three decades, had not attended a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

His lawyer Shawki Kazan attended at his place and filed formal defenses to Judge Mansour, the news agency said.

Last week, Salameh denied the charge and said that he had ordered an audit which showed that no public funds were a source of his wealth.

"This audit report was submitted to the relevant authorities in Lebanon and abroad," Salameh said in response to a question sent by text message from Reuters.

In mid-March, a Lebanese judge charged the central bank governor with illicit enrichment, days after Judge Ghada Aoun ordered his brother Raja arrested in the same case.

The brothers’ assets have been frozen under an order from a judge.

Raja Salameh's lawyer said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded, calling the evidence “media speculation without any evidence.”

On Thursday, Judge Mansour ordered the release of Raja on a bail of 500 billion Lebanese pounds (about $20 million). But Judge Aoun lodged an appeal against the decision to release Raja, a high-ranking judicial source said.

“He remains in detention,” the source said.

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. Salameh's tenure has faced increased scrutiny since Lebanon's 2019 financial implosion.

On Thursday, NNA said that the head of the Committee of Cases at the Justice Ministry Judge Helena Iskandar sent a letter to the Finance Minister requesting the assignment of a lawyer or a law firm to assist her before foreign courts that are probing the governor.

Iskandar’s request came after she received a letter from Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat informing her about the efforts to freeze Salameh’s funds in banks in some European countries.

It said the Judge’s request aims to prevent foreign countries from confiscating the Governor’s frozen funds, since they legally belong to Lebanon.

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