BEIRUT: Judge Faisal Makki issued an order on Monday to freeze the assets of Riad Salameh, governor of the Banque Du Liban, the central bank, including personal property in his house in Rabieh, Mount Lebanon.
The order was issued following a lawsuit filed against Salameh by lawyers Hassan Adel Bazzi, Haytham Adnan Ezzou, Jad Othman Tohme, Pierre Boulos Al-Gemayel and Francoise Elias Kamel, who are members of the activist group “The People Want to Fix the System”.
The lawyers accused Salameh of undermining the finances of the state, “inciting people to withdraw their deposits in banks, selling the state’s bonds and other bonds, committing fraud and neglecting his job.”
The lawyers demanded a security of $27,500 for each one of them, totaling $137,500.
A campaign against Salameh was launched in April to hold him accountable for the crippling economic and financial crisis in Lebanon.
Tohme told Arab News: “The freezing of his assets came into effect as soon as it was issued. We have frozen all seven properties owned by the governor and on Tuesday we are going to Rabieh to seize the furniture in his house.”
He said: “Salameh can only retrieve his properties after paying the total amount ($137,500) in cash or by cheque, depending on the judge’s decision. But more importantly, this means that any Lebanese citizen can now file a lawsuit against the governor. Let us wait and see how many will be able to overcome their fear and do it.”
He said: “We took the first step toward claiming our personal rights. The next step will target the officials in the banking sector who stole people’s dollar deposits and allowed them to be transferred abroad. We will resort to judges who are free and independent from political pressures.”
Salameh was already facing calls for his dismissal, especially from Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and PM Hassan Diab.
However, these calls were contested by other parties and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who warned in April against the dismissal of the governor, “which would lead to the deterioration of the currency and would threaten deposits, in which case, Lebanese will wake up to the price of the dollar at 15,000 pounds.”
The exchange rate of the dollar on Monday remained stable in the black market, bought at 8,000 and sold at 8,300 pounds.
Judicial expert Katia Toa said that “the decision against Salameh can be appealed and the seizure of properties can be lifted by paying the claimed amount as a guarantee. But the decision has a political background.”
Toa said that in May, Judge Makki also issued a decision to freeze the cars and properties of lawmaker Hadi Hobeish, of the Future Bloc, following a lawsuit filed against him. Hobeish was accused of attacking Judge Ghada Aoun in her office, after she had ordered the detention of Hobeish’s cousin, Hoda Salloum, director general of the Traffic and Vehicles Management Authority, for illicit enrichment and bribery.
Tohme added: “We are being accused of being associated with Hezbollah. People are always talking about conspiracy. We reject this talk. It is really shameful to doubt the judges who are working hard to promote the independence of the judicial authority.”
Judge Makki, a member of the Lebanese Judges Association (LJA), rejected claims that the LJA was associated with the Lebanese Presidency.
The cabinet is expected to discuss in its Tuesday session the file of the audit of the central bank’s accounts, to determine who will handle this task.
President Michel Aoun’s party is insisting on conducting a full audit. Aoun tweeted Saturday: “Our attempts to fight corruption will be in vain if we do not conduct an audit to understand how money was wasted. The forensic audit will clear the record of the innocents and condemn the corrupt officials.”
Meanwhile, people have kept protesting in the streets.
On Monday, a number of professors and doctors at the American University of Beirut (AUB) protested outside the university to voice their solidarity with the employees who were dismissed from AUB and its hospital (AUH) due to the economic crisis that has hit the private sector. 650 AUH employees were laid off with 200 other people whose contracts were not renewed.