French Prosecutors Name Ukrainian Suspect in Lebanese Central Bank Probe

Lebanon's Central Bank building is pictured behind a razor wire fence, in Beirut, Lebanon October 5, 2022. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Central Bank building is pictured behind a razor wire fence, in Beirut, Lebanon October 5, 2022. (Reuters)
TT

French Prosecutors Name Ukrainian Suspect in Lebanese Central Bank Probe

Lebanon's Central Bank building is pictured behind a razor wire fence, in Beirut, Lebanon October 5, 2022. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Central Bank building is pictured behind a razor wire fence, in Beirut, Lebanon October 5, 2022. (Reuters)

French prosecutors said on Monday they have put a Ukrainian woman linked to the governor of Lebanon's central bank under formal investigation as part of a cross-border probe into alleged fraud to the detriment of the Lebanese state. 

Anna Kosakova, with whom central bank governor Riad Salameh has a daughter, according to a birth certificate seen by Reuters, is suspected of aggravated money laundering, a spokesperson at the Paris office of the National Financial Prosecutors said. 

Kosakova, who was notified about the preliminary charges on June 14, had to hand over her passport and was ordered not to leave France, the spokesperson said, confirming a report by French online journal Mediapart. 

A lawyer for Kosakova said he and his client would "react very soon" to the French prosecutors' decisions. 

Salameh, who has not been named as a suspect by French prosecutors but who had some of his real estate assets in France seized as part of the investigation, did not respond to a message seeking comment. 

A French lawyer for Salameh, Pierre-Olivier Sur, said the June decision on Kosakova "doesn't change anything". He said they were waiting for a French court to hear their challenge of the property seizures. 

The French investigation is part of coordinated efforts by prosecutors in Lebanon, as well as in Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Lichtenstein to determine whether Salameh used his position at the central bank, known as Banque du Liban (BDL), to embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds. 

Swiss authorities suspect Salameh, together with a brother, Raja Salameh, may have illegally taken more than $300 million from BDL between 2002 and 2015, laundering some of the money in Switzerland, according to Swiss court documents seen by Reuters. 

In an interview with Reuters in November last year, Riad Salameh denied any wrongdoing, saying no BDL or public Lebanese funds were diverted. A person close to Raja Salameh declined to comment. 

In Germany, prosecutors have said they were investigating the possibility that some of the funds identified by Swiss authorities were used to acquire real estate assets, notably in Munich. 

For their part, French prosecutors are trying to determine whether the Salameh brothers used some of those funds to acquire real estate in France, including part of a building on the Champs Elysees, according to people familiar with the investigation. 

In the interview with Reuters, Riad Salameh has said he bought real estate assets with his own money, earned when he worked as an investment banker. Questioned by French investigators last year about the acquisitions, Raja Salameh denied any wrongdoing. 

The Champs Elysees building has caught the attention of prosecutors in France as well as in Lebanon because, according to company records and lease contracts seen by Reuters, it houses a business center managed by Kosakova, part of which was rented by the Lebanese central bank. 



In Lebanon, Top French Diplomat Seeks Israel-Hezbollah De-Escalation

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
TT

In Lebanon, Top French Diplomat Seeks Israel-Hezbollah De-Escalation

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP

France's top diplomat on Sunday urged de-escalation between Israel and the Hezbollah movement during his second visit to Lebanon since cross-border tensions flared alongside the Gaza war.
Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group have exchanged near-daily fire since Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war in Gaza.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks, with Israel striking deeper into Lebanese territory, while Hezbollah has stepped up its missile and drone attacks on military positions in northern Israel, said AFP.
The United States has led diplomatic efforts to halt violence along the border with Israel, with France also seeking ways to calm tensions.
Paris presented to both Lebanon and Israel an initiative earlier this year seeking to end hostilities.
"We refuse a worst-case scenario... No one has any interest in Israel and Hezbollah continuing this escalation. This is my message here," French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne told reporters in Beirut.
He said he "will bring this same message to Israel on Tuesday,"
Hezbollah has repeatedly declared that only a ceasefire in Gaza will put an end to its attacks on Israel.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that the volume of cross-border attacks had doubled since April 13.
Ahead of the press conference Sejourne met Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, army chief Joseph Aoun and influential parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.
Proposals 'to avoid war'
A return to stability "requires the redeployment of armed forces in southern Lebanon," he added, referring to a region where Hezbollah holds sway.
In March, Beirut submitted its response to the French initiative, based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
The resolution called for the removal of weapons in southern Lebanon from everyone except the army and other state security forces.
The objective of that roadmap, Sejourne said, "is to achieve the full implementation by all parties of Security Council Resolution 1701."
Berri and Mikati both said that Lebanon was keen on implementing the UN resolution, according to separate statements following their meetings with Sejourne.
"The French initiative constitutes a practical framework for implementing Resolution 1701, which Lebanon is committed to implementing in full, while demanding Israel commit to it and stop its destructive aggression against southern Lebanon," Mikati said in a statement.
More than four years into an economic collapse, and essentially leaderless, Lebanon is ill-prepared for regional conflict.
Mikati has for about two years headed a caretaker government with reduced powers after a general election failed to deliver a majority to either of Lebanon's rival power blocs.
The country has not had a president since late 2022 when Michel Aoun's mandate ended without agreement on a successor.
"Without an elected president, without a fully-functioning government, Lebanon will not... be invited to the discussion table," he said.
Earlier in the day Sejourne visited the headquarters of the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), which includes around 700 French troops.
Sejourne reiterated that Paris has been making proposals to "avoid war in Lebanon".
Since October 8 at least 385 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 254 Hezbollah fighters and dozens of civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 11 soldiers and nine civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides.