The investigation is the latest confidence boost to Lebanon’s crippled financial system.
Beirut, Lebanon – The Swiss authorities have asked the Lebanese justice to cooperate in an investigation into money laundering against the country’s central bank, in the latest blow of confidence in the insolvent financial institution and its depressed governor.
The investigation focuses on $ 400 million in transfers allegedly linked to 27-year-old bank governor Riad Salameh, his brother Raja, and Salameh advisor Marianne Al-Hoayek, a judicial source told Al Jazeera. Institutions in which the bank has a significant stake – including Middle East Airlines and the Casino du Liban – are also under scrutiny, the source said.
Salameh issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and calling reports of any overseas transfers on his behalf by himself, his brother or his advisor “fabrications and fake news”. He has threatened legal action against anyone who publishes the information with the intention of damaging his reputation.
The Swiss attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment. Officials at the Swiss Embassy in Beirut referred Al Jazeera to the prosecutor’s office. The outgoing Lebanese justice minister also did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters news agency quoted the Swiss attorney general’s office as saying it sought legal aid from Lebanon in an investigation into “aggravated money laundering” and possible bank-related embezzlement. Lebanese central, officially known as the Bank of Lebanon.
It was not immediately clear if Salameh was a suspect.
Tuesday’s news only worsens Salameh’s dramatic fall since late 2019, when Lebanon plunged into its deepest economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war. The Lebanese currency has since lost more than 80% of its value against the US dollar and more than half of the population now lives in poverty.
Previously a recipient of numerous international banking awards and a strong contender for the country’s presidency, Salameh has since been targeted by anti-government protesters who blame him and senior politicians for the country’s financial collapse.
Meanwhile, the international community has conditioned the essential aid to Lebanon on a forensic audit of the central bank that Salameh has been leading since 1993.
The Swiss investigation could still encounter obstacles in Lebanon. The judicial source said that prosecutor Ghassan Khoury, who received the Swiss request, noted a lack of evidence or supporting documents that would justify the “detailed questions” that the Swiss authorities wish to ask of Salameh and others.
Khoury may ask for more information before deciding whether to comply with the request, the source said, noting that Lebanon in 2020 asked for help from Swiss authorities in an investigation into around $ 2.4 billion transferred. outside the country following October. 2019 protests – transfers that bypassed unofficial capital controls.
Lebanon received no response at the time, the source said.