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Lebanon Arrests Brother of Embattled Central Bank Chief

Lebanon Arrests Brother of Embattled Central Bank Chief

Thursday, 17 March, 2022 - 12:00
Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/Files

Lebanese authorities on Thursday arrested Raja Salameh, the brother of the central bank governor, over suspicion of money laundering and illicit enrichment, the state-run news agency (NNA) reported.

According to the NNA, Ghada Aoun, an investigative judge at Mount Lebanon district court, questioned Raja Salameh for several hours before placing him under arrest. The suit against Salameh was filed by a group of lawyers who accuse him of corruption.

The move comes two months after the same judge imposed a travel ban and froze some assets of the central bank governor, Riad Salameh, 71, who is accused of corruption and dereliction of duties during Lebanon’s unprecedented economic meltdown.

The central bank governor is also being investigated in several European nations, including Switzerland and France, for potential money laundering and embezzlement.

Riad Salameh had steered Lebanese finances for nearly three decades, through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. Once praised as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, he has drawn increasing scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019.

Local media have reported in recent months that the governor, his brother and an aide transferred money abroad despite capital controls imposed at home, a charge the governor has denied.

Riad Salameh has avoided interrogation and sought Aoun's recusal from the case, alleging bias.

He retains the support of powerful figures including billionaire Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has said the veteran central bank chief should remain in his post while Lebanon battles its economic crisis.

There have been reports that a brokerage firm, Forry Associates Ltd, owned by Raja Salameh, was hired to handle government bonds sales by the central bank in which the firm received $330 million in commissions. The governor said last November that “not a single penny of public money” was used to pay for Forry Associates Ltd.

Also Thursday, Judge Aoun froze the assets of local lender Creditbank, her latest such move against local banks.

On Monday, she froze the assets of five of Lebanon’s largest banks and those of their board of directors as she investigates possible transfers of billions of dollars aboard.

Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls since the economic crisis began. Since then, people do not have full access to their savings and those who withdraw cash from US dollar accounts get an exchange rate far lower than that on the black market.

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