Switzerland to investigate Lebanon’s central bank governor on money laundering

Swiss officials have opened an investigation into the governor of Lebanon’s central bank over allegations of money laundering.

Riad Salameh, 70, is under investigation for “possible embezzlement” and “aggravated money laundering” from the Lebanese central bank, the Financial Times reported .

The investigation was launched at the request of the Lebanese government, which is investigating reports that billions of dollars left Lebanon despite a ban on foreign transfers, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The investigation will focus on overseas transfers made by the governor and his close associates, but Swiss authorities have not yet confirmed whether Salameh is the subject of a specific investigation.

Salameh said that allegations that the money had been moved abroad, “either on behalf of him, his brother or his assistant” were “fake news”, in a statement issued by the Central Bank.

The statement was issued after Lebanon’s Justice Minister said that Swiss judicial authorities had requested cooperation in the investigation.

Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm confirmed that she had submitted a request to the prosecutor to cooperate with the investigation, according to Reuters .

Salameh was previously charged with financial crimes in a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Information Project (OCCRP) and its Lebanese partner Daraj, in August last year.

The report claims that Salameh and his family own assets worth $ 100 million worldwide, including real estate in Germany, Belgium and the UK, and that they have used various shell companies abroad to illegitimately accumulate wealth .

Salameh has recently come under fire for his handling of Lebanon’s financial crisis, which has caused the country’s currency, the Lebanese pound, to lose more than 80% of its value.

The government defaulted on a debt of $ 1.2 million in Eurobonds in March and began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, but negotiations stalled.

In an effort to stem Lebanon’s economic collapse, banks imposed strict capital controls, limiting account holders to withdraw as little as $ 100 a week, and banning transfers abroad.

However, during the chaos, reports emerged that wealthy Lebanese, including bank owners and government officials, were still able to transfer capital abroad.

In February 2020, local daily Al-Akhbar reported that five bank owners had transferred $ 2.3 billion abroad since the previous October.

Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed Salameh for the multiple crises, but Salameh has repeatedly defended his role.