Salameh testifies before European judicial delegation in Lebanon

Salameh testifies before European judicial delegation in Lebanon
Riad Salameh has been Lebanon’s central bank governor since 1993. (File/AP)
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Updated 16 March 2023

Salameh testifies before European judicial delegation in Lebanon

Salameh testifies before European judicial delegation in Lebanon
  • Bank du Liban governor attends meeting in Beirut at the Palace of Justice
  • Pope Francis meets caretaker PM Mikati as tensions rise amid currency crisis, political deadlock

BEIRUT: The governor of the banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, testified on Thursday before a European judicial delegation at the Palace of Justice in Beirut, as part of investigations into Salameh’s involvement in financial irregularities.

Strict security measures were taken in and around the palace. The army was deployed in the vicinity of the headquarters of the Military Court and the headquarters of the army intelligence near the National Museum, all the way to the Adliya Bridge.

Salameh entered and exited through a gate far from the press, via an elevator that leads directly to the floor where the session took place.

The European delegation, led by French judge Aude Buresi, who represented France and Luxembourg, did not question Salameh directly, with local judge Charbel Bou Samra questioning the governor as interpreters translated the answers.

No Lebanese or foreign lawyer accompanied Salameh to the hearing.

According to leaked information, Salameh answered all the questions and appeared comfortable while providing the delegation with explanations.

The European delegation is investigating the laundering of some $330 million.

The session was attended by the head of the Cases Authority at the Ministry of Justice, Helena Iskandar, after obtaining approval from the European judicial delegation, provided that she would not interfere in the course of the session.

Salameh reportedly told the delegation that he needed to chair a meeting of the Banque du Liban, scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m., in the hope of the delegation ending the hearing early.

The delegation is not entitled to take any action against Salameh on Lebanese soil, and if it decides to charge him, can do so only in the countries where the investigation was initially opened.

Unconfirmed reports said Salameh submitted his resignation to Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, before the hearing, with Mikati asking him to wait until his governorship ends in July. However, central bank sources denied such claims, stressing that Salameh never offered to quit.

Should Salameh’s mandate end before a new Lebanese president is elected and government formed to appoint a new governor, Salameh’s deputy, Wassim Mansouri, takes over the task by proxy.

Mansouri, however, is Shiite, with the central bank governor position reserved for the Maronite community.

Meanwhile, there was turmoil in the financial market as banks continued their strike for a third day, and the Lebanese pound dropped to 102,200 pounds to the dollar, while food and fuel prices rose.

George Brax, a member of the syndicate of gas station owners, said he expected gas stations to face a technical problem in the next few days, as screens on fuel pumps will run out of space to display prices.

There has been no positive development so far in the process of electing a new president, despite continuous calls by Arab, foreign, and international officials to elect a new head of state without further delay.

After meeting with Mikati at the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis reiterated his firm belief in the message that Lebanon performs through cultural and religious pluralism that distinguishes it and makes it unique in the region.

He stressed the necessity of solidarity among Lebanese officials to get out of their various crises and elect a new president.

“I gave the pope a letter explaining the situation in Lebanon and the potential avenues of solution in which the Vatican could contribute to ensure their success, through its contacts with the international community, notably regarding the presidential election,” the statement from Mikati’s press office said.

In Beirut, the head of the Lebanese pharmacists syndicate Joe Salloum urged all trade unions and popular forces to declare “an open and comprehensive strike until a president is elected, and the rescue operation begins.”