Lebanon’s Mikati Denies Meddling in Judiciary Over Financial Probe

By Asharq Al-Awsat
Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks to reports at Baabda Palace. AP file photo

Lebanon's prime minister said on Wednesday the government had not interfered with the judiciary's work, after reports that he had put pressure on a judge seeking data from banks in an investigation into the conduct of the central bank governor.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said last month that veteran Governor Riad Salameh, who is at the center of domestic and international probes over allegations ranging from fraud to embezzlement, should stay in his job to avoid adding to problems in Lebanon as it navigates a deep financial crisis.

"It is also necessary to clarify what came out yesterday (Tuesday) about matters related to the judiciary. In this context, I say it is not true that we interfered in the work of the judiciary or in any decision taken by the judiciary," Reuters quoted Mikati as telling a news conference.

Several Lebanese news outlets said Mikati had called the country's top prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat, and threatened to resign if Judge Jean Tannous, who is leading one of the probes, continued to press banks for data in his investigation into alleged embezzlement involving the central bank governor's family.

Salameh, who has denied any wrongdoing during his almost three decades leading the central bank, is being probed by the authorities in Lebanon and at least four European countries, including a Swiss inquiry over alleged money laundering.

Another Lebanese judge, Ghada Aoun, who is conducting investigations into other activities by the governor, said on Tuesday she had imposed a travel ban on Salameh and that the next stage would be to seek to question him.

Salameh said on Tuesday he had no knowledge of Aoun's travel ban order and dismissed allegations ranging from fraud to other acts of misconduct being investigated by Aoun as "part of the campaign to fool the public opinion."

Mikati told Wednesday's news conference that the aim of any government actions was "not defending individuals but preserving of institutions" and the rights of depositors, who have been locked out of their accounts during the financial meltdown.

The governor has stayed in his post even as the economy has been crushed by a mountain of debt, the currency has collapsed and swathes of the nation have been driven into poverty.

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