Suspicions of financial crime tarnished a senior official’s reputation.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the military-political movement Hezbollah in Lebanon, called on the head of the Central Bank, Riyadh Salama, to resign from his post. He explained the necessity of such a step with the growing legal problems due to corruption charges against the official.
The head of the Central Bank of Lebanon is suspected of multiple financial crimes: money laundering, bribery, forgery of documents, embezzlement of funds. In addition, since the official has Lebanese-French citizenship and uses EU countries in financial transactions, his activities are being investigated not only in his homeland but also in Europe.
Law enforcement alleges that with the help of the banker’s relatives and through a company he controlled in Luxembourg, he withdrew about $330 million from the country and spent it on buying real estate in the UK, Germany, France and other countries. In addition, various sources indicate that the shares of some foreign companies were taken over by the authorized person.
International arrest warrants were subsequently issued for Salameh by Berlin and Paris, resulting in Interpol’s “red notice”. Such measures were taken because the 72-year-old official did not appear for questioning in a French court.
Last Wednesday, May 24, the head of the Central Bank was interrogated in a court in Beirut and later handed over Lebanese and French passports. This finally deprived him of the opportunity to travel abroad for the duration of the trial.
Despite the current difficulties, Riad Salame is still at the head of the Central Bank. He denies the corruption allegations and claims that his assets are the result of income from investments and inheritances, as well as savings he made during his tenure as a banker at Merrill Lynch. In addition, the banker plans to object to a “red notice” issued by Interpol on his behalf.
The official also declares that he will only resign from his high post if the court finds him guilty.
However, scandals related to financial crimes have already led to a sharp deterioration in the reputation of the head of the Central Bank of Lebanon. The result of this situation was a series of statements demanding the resignation of important political figures in the country. However, no official decision was taken during the discussion of the relevant issue in the Council of Ministers.
Until recently, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was limited to criticizing the head of the Central Bank. But in a recent televised speech, he said that Salameh now has only two options left: to leave on his own or to be fired by court order.
This call may indeed have some ramifications, given the fact that the Hezbollah movement enjoys enormous power and a certain degree of autonomy in Lebanon. Also, Nasrallah’s attention to the problem is proof that the domestic situation in Beirut is indeed heating up.
Riyadh Salameh has been head of the central bank for nearly 30 years and was once seen as the guardian of the state’s financial stability. Now the country is experiencing a deep economic crisis: the national currency has depreciated, unemployment has risen, and the state’s inability to pay for vital resources is leading to the failure of basic infrastructure. According to various estimates, already three-quarters of the population of the republic is on the verge of poverty. And in the face of high-profile scandals, the central bank governor can become a scapegoat for those seeking the source of their problems.
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