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Riad Salameh at a press conference in 2019

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MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS

Lebanese Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh al-Shami has called for the resignation of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. Earlier, France issued an arrest warrant for the banker as part of a fraud investigation.

Salameh, his brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Hoayek are under investigation in Lebanon and in at least five European countries on suspicion that they may have stolen more than $300 million from the central bank. "In any country where someone is accused of such crimes, he should not remain in a position of responsibility and withdraw immediately," al-Shami told Reuters.

Salameh, who, like his brother, denies any wrongdoing, told Saudi Arabia's Al-Hadath TV that he would resign if there was a court ruling against him.

The background to the French arrest warrant is that Salamah did not appear at a hearing in Paris as part of the investigation. In a statement on Tuesday evening, Salamah said he would appeal the decision. It was a "clear violation of the law".

The French financial prosecutor's office had launched preliminary investigations in spring 2021 on suspicion of concealment. Previously, two complaints had been filed against the head of the central bank, who owns several properties in France, and his entourage. The Sherpa organization, which filed one of the complaints, accused Salamah of having taken significant sums of money out of the country since the crisis in Lebanon in the fall of 2019. A lawyer for Salamah had evaluated the charges as a "political action".

Salamah denies the allegations

Investigators from Germany and Luxembourg are also conducting investigations against Salamah and his entourage on money laundering allegations. They are accused of embezzling more than $330 million in public funds in Lebanon. Investigations are also underway in Lebanon.

Salamah has been at the helm of the central bank for around 30 years. He repeatedly denied the allegations against him. A judicial source told Reuters that a new hearing date for Raja Salameh in Lebanon had been set for June 15.

Since the end of 2019, the Mediterranean state of Lebanon has been in the midst of the worst economic and financial crisis in its history. Among other things, it is attributed to decades of corruption in politics and business. The local currency is in free fall.

atb/Reuters/dpa