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.


Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

Updated 21 min 47 sec ago

Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

  • For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols

RABAT: Rowing their wooden boats across an azure river mouth, Moroccan ferrymen battle not just winds and currents but also rapid urban development which is threatening their traditional way of life.

This year the coronavirus and a sharp drop-off in tourism have further conspired against the water taxis across the Bou Regreg river estuary, between the capital Rabat and its twin city of Sale.

For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols, across the choppy waters below the medieval Kasbah of the Udayas.

“Our boats have always been part of the history of the two cities and yet we have no support,” sighed Adil El-Karouani, one of the 72 professional boatmen who shuttle back and forth between the river shores from dawn to midnight.

“We feel marginalized and abandoned.”

Karouani, 45, said he was 11 when he started in the business and vowed to “fight so that this profession, inherited from my father, does not disappear.”

But he faces a tide of modern development as the once flood-prone estuary has undergone a 1.5 billion euro development program, launched in 2006 by King Mohamed VI with the help of renowned architects such as Marc Mimram and Zaha Hadid.

Since then swamp areas have been reclaimed, overpasses built and a luxury real estate project with a marina has transformed the Sale riverfront. Since 2011, a tram supplements the bus network, used by the thousands who commute daily from residential Sale to their jobs in the capital.

Some regulars still prefer the gentle bobbing of the small boats driven by muscle power.

“We breathe fresh air ... it’s better than the traffic jams of taxis or the bustle of the tramway,” said Tarek Skaiti, who enthused that he likes to “lose the feeling of gravity” during the short river crossing.

On weekends, the quays of the Bou Regreg still draw crowds of visitors, many of whom take boat tours to the ramparts of the UNESCO-listed medieval fortress where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. From the new Marina de Sale, motor yachts now offer faster and more expensive tours. Jet-skis roar across the river “without worrying about the danger,” complained Nouredine Belafiq, who has worked as a boatman for 26 years.

“With the coronavirus, there are almost no tourists,” lamented Driss Boudy, a vigorous 62-year-old man who proudly introduced himself by displaying his professional boatman’s license.

“We do an endurance job: It takes strength and heart to move a one-and-a-half ton boat with 400 kilo of passengers, especially when the tide is high,” said his colleague, Khalid Badkhali.

“I’ve tried other jobs, but I’ve always come back to the river,” said the 50-year-old, who pointed out that his precarious job doesn’t entitle him to any social security cover.

On neighboring piers, trawlers unload their haul of sardines, surrounded by flocks of seagulls — the last vestige of what was, until the beginning of the 20th century, Morocco’s largest river port.

Impoverished by the public health crisis that has paralyzed life in Morocco for many months, the fishermen feel as “marginalized” as the boatmen, said one of them, Adil El-Karouani.

“Many have lost their jobs and some are leaving clandestinely with their boats” in the hope of reaching the Spanish coast, he said, corroborating local media reports of “illegal immigration mafias” operating from Sale.

Desperate migrants hoping for a better life in Europe pay between 2,000 and 4,000 euros for the risky journeys.

The river boat crossing costs just 2.5 dirhams (about 0.2 euros), says a faded sign on the pier. The price, set by the authorities, has not changed for years.