France launches corruption investigation into Lebanese central bank governor

French prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation into the money laundering allegations of Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s long-time central bank governor, who was also accused of being linked to an organized crime group.

The French Prosecutor’s Office said on Monday that French prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into the money laundering allegations of the Governor of the Lebanese Central Bank.

The move was carried out after Switzerland launched an investigation into possible money laundering and corruption in the Lebanese Central Bank, which is currently at the heart of Lebanon’s severe financial crisis.

The French prosecutor’s office stated that the investigation surrounding Riad Salameh began in late May and involved potential allegations of money laundering and ties to organized criminal groups.

Salameh, 70, has managed Lebanon’s central bank since 1993 and has been regarded as a symbol of the country’s currency stability for many years.

In a statement sent to Reuters by the bank governor on Sunday, Salameh’s French lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur refuted these allegations, saying they were politically motivated “communication operations.”

In 2019, Lebanon was caught in the worst economic and financial crisis in memory. Since then, the country’s currency, the Lebanese pound, has depreciated by about 90% on the black market, weakening the purchasing power of ordinary Lebanese.

More than 40% of Lebanese households say they have challenges in paying for food and other basic necessities.

Salameh assured depositors last Thursday that the central bank-known as Banque du Liban-is not bankrupt and that people’s deposits are safe and will be returned soon. Overturn the decision Stop withdrawals from U.S. dollar deposit accounts that sparked street protests.

Anti-government protesters in Lebanon now refer to Merrill Lynch’s former investment banker Salameh as a “thief.”

As the economic crisis worsened, he held several demonstrations outside his office in Beirut. According to the World Bank, The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) plummeted from nearly 55 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 to approximately 33 billion U.S. dollars last year, and per capita GDP plummeted by about 40%.

In January of this year, the Swiss Attorney General stated that he had asked Lebanon to cooperate in the investigation of the Central Bank.

Lebanese media reported in the past few months that Salameh, his brother and other assistants were involved in illegal business. The allegations include the transfer of funds abroad despite the implementation of capital controls at home.

Salameh denied making such a transfer.

The French anti-corruption organization Sherpa filed a lawsuit against Salameh in April on the grounds that the investment included millions of euros in property.

Salameh responded last month that he had proven that his wealth was acquired before taking up a bank position nearly 30 years ago.

Lebanon initiated its own investigation in April after filing a legal request in Switzerland, accusing it of embezzling more than US$300 million from the central bank through a company owned by Salameh’s brother.

Lebanon’s financial and political elites are facing increasing pressure due to mismanagement, corruption, and hindering efforts to unlock international aid.

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