Lebanon: accused of embezzlement, Riad Salamé expected by French justice
Central Bank of Lebanon Governor Riad Salamé during his interview with Agence France Presse, December 20, 2021. AFP - JOSEPH EID
Text by: RFI Follow
Riad Salamé is summoned this Tuesday, May 16 in the morning by the French justice. But nothing says that he will be in the office of the judge who gave him an appointment. The governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon is named in several investigations into embezzlement, including in France where an indictment awaits him.
Whether or not Riad Salamé goes to Paris on Tuesday, the files are there. Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon for 30 years, the man interests Lebanese, Swiss, Luxembourgish, German and French judges. Investigators in these different countries are trying to understand how Riad Salamé built up his considerable fortune. At 72, he recalls that he worked as an investment banker.
But the complaint filed in France alleges ill-gotten gains, possibly to the detriment of Lebanese savers. Luxurious properties belonging to Riad Salamé and his entourage were seized. One of his relatives is already under investigation in France, and on several occasions, a trio of European judges went to Beirut to jointly hear the governor of the Central Bank and various witnesses.
Suspected of embezzlement, Riad Salamé is also criticized for his responsibility in the historic economic shipwreck of his country. Many Lebanese are wondering who are the supporters of this man who has managed to keep his post until the end of his fifth term, in a few weeks.
In an economically ruined Lebanon, justice is counted on to ensure those responsible pay
Prosecutors suspect Riad Salamé, the governor of the Bank of Lebanon, of embezzling more than $300million in public funds, some of it to buy properties in Europe. The accusations come as the country is going through one of the worst economic crises in its history. Savers have seen their savings go up in smoke. In France, the diaspora is mobilizing to help them and hopes that those responsible will be held accountable.
Nadine Ghorayeb no longer counts her poor relatives in Lebanon. Their wages have melted with the devaluation of the national currency, which has lost nearly 100% of its value in three years. "A friend was getting the equivalent of $2,500 a month. Today, he earns $150. Who can live on $150 a month? ", confides the lawyer, met by Nicolas Feldmann in Paris.
To help her loved ones, this Franco-Lebanese collects medicines, collects glasses for an association... But the most important thing is to send money: "It varies... But with 100 euros, you can help a person. Even small amounts are very significant. That is where the situation is dramatic.»
The lawyer also focuses on the law. With a colleague in Beirut, she accompanies several depositors whose savings are blocked in Lebanese banks. "We are bringing actions at the individual civil level against the banks that keep the accounts of these depositors, because they can no longer get their money back," she said.
In this context, how can we imagine that one of those responsible for the economic slump, the governor of the Bank of Lebanon, could have diverted – as French investigators suspect – public money for personal purposes? His possible indictment would France pave the way for a trial. "I am counting on justice to do justice," insists Nadine Ghorayeb.
If Riad Salamé were found guilty of "embezzlement of public funds", the law in France would allow the restitution of these "ill-gotten gains" to the despoiled population.
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- Economic crisis