European team ends Salameh questioning, to return in April


A European legal team on Friday ended two days of questioning of central bank chief Riad Salameh in Beirut in a money-laundering probe linked to the governor.

Salameh was questioned for two hours Friday and six hours the day before, Lebanese judicial officials said. The European delegation — with representatives from France, Germany, and Luxembourg — questioned Salameh through a Lebanese judge, acting as a go-between. Under Lebanese laws, the representatives cannot directly question Salameh.

The sessions proceeded "calmly", media reports said.

Salameh had provided Thursday "detailed" responses to some 100 questions submitted by investigators and "refuted all suspicions of money laundering". The team asked him about an apartment in Paris’ Champs Elysee rented by the central bank and Forry Associates Ltd, a brokerage firm owned by Salameh's brother, Raja, on whether the company existed, the officials said. They added that Salameh was “confident” when he responded to the questions in French.

In his second questioning session Friday, Salameh faced an additional 100 questions put forward by the European delegation.

Salameh,72, is part of the Lebanese political class widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and which the World Bank has dubbed one of the worst in recent history.

He faces allegations of crimes including embezzlement in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad, with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in March last year in a move linked to a French probe into Salameh's personal wealth.

The European investigation is looking into allegations of financial misconduct, including possible money laundering and embezzlement.

The delegation is expected to leave on Saturday before returning on April 15 to question Salameh's brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoayek.

The two had separately been summoned for a Lebanese investigation that opened in 2021.

The delegation has submitted the questions to Lebanese judge Charbel Abu Samra, who for procedural reasons was to do the questioning in the presence of the European officials.

Salameh would appear "as a witness" and would not be charged or arrested, a judicial source said, adding that the central bank chief could face several days of questioning.

- Initial no-show -

Salameh had been summoned to appear on Wednesday but failed to show up, alleging that "the presence of international judges in Lebanon and the investigation into the financial matters is in conflict with national sovereignty".

The judiciary rejected his claim and the session was rescheduled for Thursday.

In January, the European investigators interviewed banking officials in Beirut about the transfer of funds to countries where Salameh has significant assets.

They also examined the central bank's ties to Forry Associates Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company that listed Salameh's brother as its beneficiary.

Forry is suspected of having brokered Lebanese treasury bonds and Eurobonds at a commission, which was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts abroad.

Salameh has rarely appeared before investigating judges, despite numerous complaints and summonses.

Last month, Lebanese authorities charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of their own investigation.

A fresh complaint was filed against him on Wednesday, including for bribery and illicit enrichment.

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