Banque du Liban governor holds millions in UK assets: Anti-corruption watchdog

The Governor of Lebanon’s central bank Riad Salameh during a news conference at the central bank in Beirut, Lebanon, November 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 August 2020

Banque du Liban governor holds millions in UK assets: Anti-corruption watchdog

  • The majority of the assets identified are UK properties, including an apartment in London’s wealthy Hyde Park area worth around £3.5 million owned by Salameh’s son Nady
  • Salameh has dismissed suggestions of impropriety, saying his family’s wealth was accrued prior to his becoming governor of the Banque du Liban in 1993

LONDON: An anti-corruption watchdog has accused the governor of the Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, of holding hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore assets.

Riad Salameh and his family are accused by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, along with Lebanese investigative website Daraj, of owning over $100 million in companies worldwide, with the majority based in the UK.

Salameh, previously considered a respectable, stabilizing force on the Lebanese financial sector, has seen his reputation tarnished as the country faces economic turmoil.

He was responsible for the policy of pegging the Lebanese pound to the US dollar, a system that has collapsed in the aftermath of the government defaulting on international debt.

He has also been accused of grossly overestimating assets held by the Banque du Liban to the tune of $6 billion.

The latest revelations will have done little to improve Salameh’s image, despite there currently being no allegations of illegality over his family’s holdings.

The majority of the assets identified are UK properties, including an apartment in London’s wealthy Hyde Park area worth around £3.5 million ($4.58 million) owned by Salameh’s son Nady.

It was initially bought by a company that was then dissolved after ownership was transferred to him.

Salameh has dismissed suggestions of impropriety, saying his family’s wealth was accrued prior to his becoming governor of the Banque du Liban in 1993, and providing evidence that he had in excess of $23 million to his name at the time.

It is the latest development in a litany of unflattering stories about Lebanon’s ruling elite, which has come under intense scrutiny following the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, caused by the combustion of thousands of tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate.

The explosion killed over 170 people, and has been widely blamed on the incompetence of government officials who, many claim, have been complicit in the widespread accruing of wealth despite poor management.

An international bailout to help the country will almost certainly come on condition of serious institutional reforms.

French President Emmanuel Macron last week called for “strong political initiatives to fight against corruption,” and a “transparent audit of the central bank and the banking system” if such assistance is to be forthcoming. “If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” he warned.


Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 16 min 14 sec ago

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.