Several EU states recently cracked down on a major operation linked to an alleged major money laundering operation in Lebanon, freezing more than â¬120 million in assets that allegedly implicated the head of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, according to Arab News. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, while no suspects have been officially named, the seizures have been strongly linked to Salameh, who recently battled corruption charges.
Germany, Luxembourg and France have frozen assets linked to the investigation and seized all property and bank accounts of the suspects involved, with other EU countries carrying out their investigations into the bank chief. An unnamed diplomat confirmed to Reuters that the freeze was linked to investigations into Salameh and his brother, although both vehemently denied any such action or involvement. The European Union Criminal Justice Agency has reported that five suspects are suspected of embezzling more than $330 million and â¬5 million in public funds in Lebanon between 2002 and 2021, which prosecutors believe Salameh participated with the help of his brother Raja.
With charges laid in Europe, Salameh is now fighting a two-pronged battle both abroad and at home, as a judge in his home country of Lebanon accused him of âenriching illicitâ and money laundering while accusing Raja Salameh of more corruption charges. . The brothers have been accused of using public funds to buy various assets in Europe, including lavish Parisian apartments that cost more than $12 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The charges also led to the freezing of the Salameh brothers’ assets in Lebanon.
In office since 1993, Salameh was once hailed as the stable ruler of Lebanon’s finances and was even hailed as the “guardian of [its] financial stability” in its post-war period, reports the Inquirer. However, that began to change during the 2019 protests as increased surveillance led to new and growing allegations of money laundering and corruption which Salameh has and continues to deny. In a text message received by Reuters reporters, Salameh said he was not involved in any ongoing investigations in Europe and that his wealth did not come from funneling public funds.
However, despite the tainted reputation, the fight to freeze and seize all of Salameh’s overseas assets remains an ongoing challenge as the central bank chief still appears to have many friends in high places, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who had worked under Salameh for more than three decades before his appointment, according to Reuters. Helena Iskandar, head of the Justice Department’s Business Authority, further told Reuters that she had previously asked Khalil to help appoint lawyers overseas to freeze Salameh’s assets in Europe. , but heard no response.
“If we don’t, states suing the governor could potentially appropriate those funds.” We see that, if the allegations against him turn out to be true, these funds are the right of the Lebanese state and should be repatriated,â Iskandar told Reuters. A finance ministry spokesman declined to comment.