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.