The French Judiciary indicted a Ukrainian woman, who was said to be close to the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, as part of its investigation into the latter’s wealth in France.
AFP quoted a French judicial source as confirming that the charges against Ukrainian Anna Kozakova, 46, include “criminal conspiracy,” “laundering in organized gang” and “laundering of aggravated tax fraud”.
France, Germany and Luxembourg announced last March that they had frozen 120 million euros of Lebanese assets following an investigation into embezzlement, in a move targeting Salameh and four of his relatives.
A number of properties in France suspected of belonging to Salameh were also confiscated, including apartments in the 16th arrondissement, which are among the most expensive in the French capital, and spaces located on the Champs-Elysees Avenue, in addition to bank accounts.
French investigators took over the case in July 2021 following complaints filed in April of the same year by the Group of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon and the French association Sherpa, an NGO that defends victims of economic crimes.
Lawyers for the complainants, William Bourdon and Amelie Lefebvre, said the filing of charges was important given Kozakova’s relationship with Salameh. However, they added that this step was only a first stage, noting that the size of the (asset) confiscation measures portended other developments, beyond Salameh’s circle.
The French judiciary has not yet brought charges against Salameh, who has repeatedly defended himself, saying that he is was a “scapegoat” for the economic crisis in Lebanon.
Salameh is facing many complaints against him in several countries. Last year, Lebanese authorities opened a case at the request of the Swiss Public Prosecution over whether he and his brother Raja had transferred sums exceeding $300 million.
Despite the complaints, summons, investigations, and travel ban issued against him last January, Salameh remains in the position he has held since 1993, making him one of the longest-serving central bank governors in the world.
The man, who has been described for years as being behind the stability of the Lebanese pound, also faces criticism about the monetary policies he adopted for decades, which led to the accumulation of debts.
In Beirut, the recent French decision on Kozakova, who is believed to have a relationship with Salameh, did not shock Lebanese authorities.
The Lebanese judiciary had previously charged the woman, along with Salameh and his brother with similar crimes, but a judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the file “involved internal and external complications that are impossible to resolve within the legal framework, and through judicial prosecution procedures.”
The sources noted that the case “has other dimensions” amid the ongoing political disputes in Lebanon and external interference.