Lebanon slaps travel ban on central bank chief wanted by France


Published: 2023-05-24 20:03

Last Updated: 2024-06-22 05:54

Lebanon slaps travel ban on central bank chief wanted by France
Lebanon slaps travel ban on central bank chief wanted by France

A Lebanese judge has banned the country's central bank chief Riad Salameh from traveling, days after Beirut received an Interpol red notice following a French arrest warrant, a judicial official said Wednesday, according to AFP.

Salameh, Lebanon's long-serving central bank chief, has been the target of a series of judicial investigations both at home and abroad on allegations including fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

French investigators suspect that during his three decades in power, Salameh misused public funds to accumulate real estate and banking assets concealed through a complex and fraudulent financial network.

The judge questioned Salameh and "decided to release him pending investigation, ban him from traveling, and confiscate his Lebanese and French passports", the official told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The judge also asked the French judiciary to refer Salameh's file to Beirut in order to "determine whether the Lebanese judiciary will prosecute him for the crimes he is accused of in France or not", the official added.

Interpol circulated the red notice last week after a French magistrate issued a warrant for Salameh, who failed to appear for questioning in Paris before investigators probing his sizable assets across Europe.

An Interpol red notice is not an international arrest warrant but asks authorities worldwide to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions.

Lebanon does not extradite its nationals but Salameh could go on trial in Lebanon if local judicial authorities decide the accusations against him are founded, an official had previously told AFP.

A judge had previously notified Salameh's brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Hoayek that they were due to appear before a French judge respectively on May 31 and June 13 in the same case, the official said.

This year, European investigators have questioned Salameh in Beirut, also hearing from a Lebanese minister, the governor's brother and central bank audit firms.

In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to a probe into Salameh's wealth.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and continues to serve as central bank governor. His mandate ends in July.

On Tuesday, Munich's public prosecutor verbally informed the Lebanese judiciary that Germany had also issued a warrant against Salameh for "crimes related to corruption, forgery, embezzlement and money laundering", another judicial official told AFP.

A spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor's office told AFP they were "conducting investigations" into Salameh.