FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

March 21, 2022

By Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Lebanese judge charged central bank governor Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment on Monday, adding to the number of graft investigations he already faces.

Judge Ghada Aoun told Reuters the case related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank.

Salameh denied the charge when contacted by Reuters, saying he had ordered an audit which showed public funds were not a source of his wealth.

Salameh, 71, has been governor of Lebanon’s central bank for nearly three decades. His tenure has faced increased scrutiny since the financial system imploded in 2019 in a collapse that has impoverished many Lebanese.

Judge Aoun said Salameh had not attended a hearing scheduled for Monday and she had charged him in absentia. She had referred the case to an investigative judge and it would be up to him as to whether to issue an arrest warrant, she said.

Last week, Aoun charged Salameh’s brother Raja in the same case and ordered him arrested, since when he has been in detention.

On Friday, Raja Salameh’s lawyer said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded. He called the evidence “media speculation without any evidence”.

Riad Salameh also faces other investigations in Lebanon and at least five European countries including a Swiss inquiry over alleged aggravated money laundering at the central bank (BDL) involving $300 million in gains by a company owned by Raja Salameh.

He is a key member of a Lebanese government team that has been in talks with the IMF in the hope of negotiating a rescue deal, widely seen as the only way for the country to chart a path out of the meltdown.

Salameh has continue to enjoy political backing of some of the most powerful people in Lebanon, including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Critics of Judge Aoun accuse her of acting in line with the political agenda of President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement, which is critical of Salameh and wants his removal.

She denies this, saying she is implementing the law.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

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