A delegation of European investigators will visit Lebanon next month to discuss judicial files related to Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who is being prosecuted for money laundering and financial crimes cases in European countries.
According to the information, the Lebanese authorities were informed by France, Germany and Luxembourg, through an official letter, that a judicial delegation from these countries will visit Beirut between January 9 and 20.
The Financial Public Prosecutor, Judge Ali Ibrahim, contented himself with telling Al-Arabiya.net: “We, as the Financial Public Prosecution, have not been officially informed of the arrival of European investigators in Lebanon.”
He refused to give a position on the visit of the European investigators before knowing the nature of their mission in Lebanon.
In the context, informed sources told Al-Arabiya.net that “the main objective of the European delegation’s visit is to conduct investigations about the wealth of the Governor of the Banque du Liban and the case of the “Fawry” company owned by his brother Raja Salameh, which was the main reason behind the suspicion that the Salameh brothers were involved in embezzlement. money laundering and illegal enrichment.
Investigations with financial officials
According to the sources, the European delegation’s investigations will include meetings with the governor’s deputies and prominent officials of the Central Bank, as well as a number of directors of some commercial banks.
So far, no official position has been issued in Lebanon regarding the visit, confirming or denying its occurrence.
The Banque du Liban refused to answer Al Arabiya.net’s question about whether Governor Riad Salameh would meet the European delegation if the Lebanese authorities allowed him to come to Lebanon.
The former head of the Banking Control Commission, Samir Hammoud, told Al Arabiya.net that “the European delegation is actually visiting Lebanon with the aim of learning about the work of the banking and monetary system in light of the current crisis and Lebanon’s transformation into a cash economy that facilitates money laundering operations.”
The European delegation did not ask permission
For his part, Dr. Ali Zbib, a lawyer specializing in international economic affairs, told Al-Arabiya.net that a European judicial delegation comprising prosecutors and financial judges from Germany, France and Luxembourg “informed” the Lebanese authorities – and did not ask for their permission – that he would visit Lebanon next month in The framework of the investigations he is conducting about the wealth of the Governor of the Banque du Liban and his own financial cases that were opened against him before its courts.
He pointed out, “The European delegation will investigate the Governor of the Banque du Liban, his deputies, and directors at the Central Bank and other commercial banks without asking for “help” from the Lebanese judiciary, and this is surprising.
The investigation was attended by Lebanese judges
Lawyer Zbeeb considered, “The Lebanese authorities have the option of ‘rejecting’ the European delegation, but asking it in return to submit a judicial letter of attorney to interrogate the Governor of the Banque du Liban, in the presence of Lebanese judges.”
The visit raised questions about the concept of “sovereignty” and whether a foreign country has the right to conduct investigations in a sovereign country, noting that the anti-corruption agreement that Lebanon signed obliges it to meet the demands of foreign judicial authorities, but on the condition that this is in accordance with Lebanese laws.
In this context, the head of the Justicia Foundation for Human Rights, Dr. Paul Morcos, explained to Al-Arabiya.net, “It is not permissible for any external party to override the absolute judicial sovereignty of the Lebanese courts. In the event that a foreign country wishes to conduct investigations within this sovereignty, it must request that by virtue of a judicial delegation.” He went to the competent Lebanese judiciary, which exclusively has the right to implement and interrogate it in the presence of judges from the deputizing state.
He said, “For example, the precedent of businessman Carlos Ghosn, who was heard by the French judiciary through a Lebanese judge who received questions from the French side and then directed them to him.”
Morcos considered, “There are many problems before the European judicial delegation, including the rules that must be observed through the Lebanese Public Prosecution, including questions related to the place of the interrogation, who will attend it, what judicial measures will follow the interrogation, and whether arrest is possible if the suspect is to be arrested.” And where will it be stopped?”
Wholesale international criticism and prosecutions: Since the start of the economic collapse in 2019 and the Lebanese pound’s loss of more than 95% of its value, the Governor of the Banque du Liban has been subjected to sharp criticism of his monetary policies and financial engineering, given that they accumulated debts.
Two years ago, Switzerland has been investigating embezzlement of funds “harmful to the Banque du Liban”, suspected of having Salama and his brother behind it, estimated at more than $300 million.
The French financial judiciary has also been investigating Salama’s wealth since July 2021, and at the beginning of this month he charged a Ukrainian woman close to him, including money laundering and tax fraud.
In March 2022, the European Cooperation Unit froze $190 million of Lebanese assets, and its investigations targeted Salama and four people close to him on charges of embezzlement of public funds.
Months ago, France, Germany and Luxembourg froze 120 million euros of Lebanese assets as part of investigations into safety in money laundering and embezzlement cases in Lebanon.
Despite complaints, summonses, investigations, and a travel ban issued against him in Lebanon, Salameh is still in the position he has held since 1993. His term is supposed to end in May 2023.