Riad Salameh, the head of Lebanon’s central bank, said he would be under questioning in Switzerland as part of a Swiss money laundering investigation, a source told Al Jazeera.
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanese central bank chief Riad Salameh was questioned by a Lebanese prosecutor on Thursday after Swiss authorities asked Lebanon to comply with a money laundering investigation into Salameh and the bank he has headed for 27 years.
During the meeting, Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat told Salameh that the Swiss had requested to be questioned either in Switzerland or at the Swiss embassy in Beirut, a senior judicial source told Al Jazeera. Salameh said he would be subject to questioning in Switzerland, the source said.
The Swiss investigation focuses on multi-million dollar transfers from Salameh, his brother Raja and an adviser, Marianna Al-Hoayek, according to Lebanese officials. Reports in local media and information from judicial sources suggest that the amount in question is around $ 400 million.
The Swiss prosecutor’s office did not say whether Salameh was a suspect, but confirmed on Wednesday that he had opened an investigation into “aggravated money laundering” and potential embezzlement of the Lebanese central bank.
After Thursday’s hearing, Salameh said in a statement that no transfer had been made from the central bank, officially called Banque du Liban (BDL), or its budgets. He said he was ready to answer further questions.
He also reaffirmed that he reserved the right to prosecute anyone who spread “malicious rumors and insults that target me personally and damage Lebanon’s financial reputation.”
A second judicial source familiar with the hearing told Al Jazeera that Salameh informed the prosecutor that he had created a company in Switzerland with his brother Raja some 20 years ago and made transfers to that company. since 2002, for a total of approximately $ 240 million. , rather than the reported $ 400 million.
Salameh could not be reached for comment.
The judicial source said the prosecutor will ask BDL for more information about the transfers, including documents indicating their value and date.
Once viewed as a pillar of stability in a crisis-prone Lebanon, Salameh has a reputation that has been tarnished by the country’s unprecedented financial crisis, which began in late 2019.
Since then the Lebanese pound has lost over 80% of its value against the US dollar and more than half of the population has fallen into poverty in what the World Bank describes as a “deliberate depression” due to the political inaction and failure. and financial authorities.