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France, Luxembourg ask Lebanon for information on central bank chief's finances - sources

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By Reuters
Luxembourg asks Lebanon for information on central bank chief's finances - Lebanese source
Luxembourg asks Lebanon for information on central bank chief's finances - Lebanese source   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Laila Bassam and Timour Azhari

BEIRUT – Lebanon has received letters from French and Luxembourg authorities asking for information relating to Lebanon Central Bank Chief Riad Salameh’s bank accounts and assets, two Lebanese judicial sources told Reuters.

The sources did not elaborate.

A spokesperson for Luxembourg’s judiciary confirmed to Reuters in November it had opened “a criminal case” in relation to Salameh and his companies and assets, declining to provide further information at the time.

France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Lebanon are also probing Salameh’s personal wealth. Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing during his nearly three-decades at the helm of Lebanon’s central bank.

A spokesperson for Luxembourg’s judiciary and Lebanon’s justice minister did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The French embassy in Lebanon said Saturday it could not comment on “ongoing judicial affairs”.

When asked for comment, Salameh told Reuters the request for cooperation from Luxembourg was a “normal procedure” not a “legal suit”.

“If they had filed a legal suit they don’t need help in the investigation,” he said.

Salameh denied reports that he had been charged by Luxembourg authorities, and noted both Switzerland and France had previously requested similar cooperation from Lebanon.

Salameh’s role at the central banks has come under close scrutiny since Lebanon’s economic meltdown in 2019, which has seen the value of the currency collapse and swathes of the population pushed into poverty.

The Swiss attorney general’s office last year said it had requested legal assistance from Lebanon in the context of a probe into “aggravated money laundering” and possible embezzlement of more than $300 million under Salameh at the central bank.

The Swiss probe centres on comissions paid to a company owned by Salameh’s brother, Raja, from 2002 till 2015. Salameh has said the comissions were paid by so-called “third parties”, not the central bank.

Reuters was unable to reach Raja Salameh for comment. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.