Hanna Saleh

Accountability for the System of Corruption!

The scene was surreal in the Palace of Justice. The governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salameh - who stood aghast after the fall of his arguments on “sovereignty” to avoid appearing before the European judiciary - found himself after three decades of fake “successes” before a court authority.

For 10 hours, spread over two days, he faced a torrent of 200 questions carefully presented by French Judge Aude Buresi, mostly in an accusatory approach. He became more apprehensive about the possibility of the French judiciary condemning him, while European countries seized his accounts and properties!

Most likely, Salameh thought of many scenarios in the past months, including the renewal of his mandate. In this context, Mikati had said: “You can’t replace an officer during a battle!” Berri, for his part, had stated: “His dismissal will raise the exchange rate of the dollar to LBP 20,000.” But today, the value of a dollar reached LBP 130,000!

Certainly, the possibility of appearing before the judiciary did not cross Salameh’s mind. In contrast to media propaganda that claimed that he “stunned the judiciary” and “was coherent, answered all questions and supported his answers with documents and arguments,” it turned out that the central bank governor was very nervous, asked for a break, and smoked a Cuban cigar, benefiting from his influence on the Lebanese judge, as if Lebanon’s frightening financial collapse and moral downfall for its politicians were taking place in another country!

He did not succeed in suggesting that he was merely performing a scene in a documentary, because the questions besieged him and the interrogation suffocated him. The Lebanese lira was not doing fine as he claimed in an attempt to attract deposits.

He was resentful when, at the end of the investigation, Judge Buresi informed him that he was called to appear before her in Paris in May. He realized that he was in front of the judge who prosecuted and convicted former French President Nicolas Sarkozy! He understood that the situation was difficult and his fears increased that they had abandoned him.

He spared the European investigation due to its lack of influence on him, and fixed his anger at some of the political class, which knows that somewhere there is a “black box” that contains secrets and financial fabrications of ministries, departments, funds, and “symbols”.

Well-informed people in Beirut reported that he had told some of them: “I know how to defend myself before any court in the world!”

The protection he is asking for exceeds the ability of the executive authority to provide. The latter refrained from replacing him pending trial, so it kept him at the head of the Central Bank, manipulating cash and the Lebanese people’s food and medicine, although the Cases Department at the Ministry of Justice, which represents the Lebanese authorities, accused him of “theft, money laundering, forgery, and illegal enrichment” and requested “his arrest, seizing his accounts and assets, preventing him from disposing of them, and referring him to the Criminal Court”!

The “invitation” to Paris - which was formally rejected by the Lebanese judge under the pretext of a travel ban imposed on Salameh for being prosecuted in the same case locally – worried the Central Bank governor. He threatened to expose his accomplices, denouncing what he considered as old fabrications against him, accompanied by “some politicians’ populist attempts, who believed that such approach would protect them from suspicions and accusations, or help them cover their past mistakes”…

The matter surpassed the claim that they listened to him as a witness (...), so he shed light on his associates. He realized that the picture that was drawn before him took the direction of the trial of a “league of evil” that includes, in addition to his aides, influential politicians, bankers, and lucky people, as reported by the French “Le Monde”.

But wait, the European investigations were launched a year and a half ago with the emergence of suspicions in the case of the Forry company, which traded about $330 million, while it is now reported that the real amount exceeded $500 million. Although the file was closed in 2016, it was reopened following suspicions raised by HSBC Bank about operations carried out by this company and its sources of funds.

Nonetheless, this case is limited to the period between 2001 and 2016. So what happened before this case and after its closure?

In 1993, Riad Salameh was brought to the Central Bank with a clear agreement: We want you to stabilize the exchange rate, pay off the deficit of the balance of payments, and act as you wish!

Salameh acted, and after nearly 30 years, the heavy outcome emerged: A report published on March 20 on the occasion of the International Day of Happiness, showed the misery of Lebanon, with a very low score of 2.3 points, preceded only by the Taliban’s Afghanistan, which achieved an average of 1.8 points among 137 countries!

This is something that Economist Lamia Al-Moubayed described as reflecting “the feeling of threat that overwhelms all the Lebanese, who fear for their present, future and the future of their children!”

In fact, there is no bottom line for the collapse of the lira, with the loss of control over the exchange rate of the dollar, and the inability to curb the resulting “excessive inflation.”

This outcome is a natural result of official policies entrusted to Salameh to devise methods for their implementation. He involved with him the “banking cartel”, whose pillars quickly turned into moneylenders who reaped imaginary fortunes as a result of gambling with peoples’ deposits!

This gamble reached its climax after the explosion of the October 17 revolution, when the mafia system, with its political, banking, and militia components, wasted more than $35 billion, and imposed illegal “haircuts”, to dissolve about $40 billion of deposits. The depositors were forced to withdraw their savings at LBP 15,000 for one dollar while paying their bills, taxes, and life necessities at the parallel market price, which today is about LBP 130,000!

It has been confirmed that Salameh’s administration of cash and the BDL policies, which have turned him into a speculative money changer, was responsible for the collapse of the Lebanese lira in the parallel market. The priority was focused on supporting lucky politicians, monopoly cartels, and banks, as well as financing the Hezbollah mini-state while closing the eyes to the role of Al-Qard al-Hassan, Hezbollah’s financial institution!

The matter goes far beyond the Forry case, which necessitates a transparent prosecution and a public trial.

When Mansour Bteish, a former minister of economy and a former banker, reveals that the “financial losses exceed $151 billion” (!!) this [Forry] case appears as the tree that cannot overshadow the forest. The corruption tree of Salameh and his associates does not cover all his financial crimes, just as the jungle of thieves does not conceal his partners, who robbed Lebanon’s capabilities, destroyed people’s lives, and sent Lebanon and the Lebanese to hell.

The Forry case is a small uproar in the vicinity of the Lebanese collapse. The prosecution is required, as a necessary prelude to exposing Salameh’s main partners, including senior politicians, security officers, bankers, judges, and administrators, up to the major role of the Hezbollah militia. The latter defends the “sanctity of deposits” in a populist campaign, intending to protect smuggling and laundering of funds, and to prevent judicial auditing of accounts, and thus move to a new phase of the criminal scheme to force the people to pay the price of this major theft, by seizing the state’s assets and gold reserves to gift them to the looters!