(Tuesday, the 16th of May 2023, a French investigating magistrate issued an international arrest warrant for Lebanon's central bank chief Riad Salameh, as he earlier failed to appear for questioning before French investigators who suspect him of using fraud to amass assets across Europe. Here is our reading suggestion around this case, published in August 2021)
Le Temps revealed new details about the massive real estate wealth of Banque du Liban Gov. Riad Salameh and his associates in France. Documents reviewed by L’Orient-Le Jour identify a key individual within Salameh’s circles: Anna Kosakova, the chairwoman of a real estate company that purchased at least 10 million euros’ worth of real estate in France.
Kosakova, a 44-year-old Ukrainian national, is the mother of the governor’s daughter, E. Salameh, 15, whom he recognized as his child in 2007 two years after she was born, according to her birth certificate, which L’Orient-Le Jour also reviewed.
These revelations have emerged at a time when the governor is the subject of three probes into his allegedly ill-gotten gains. The Swiss attorney-general launched the first probe into the alleged “aggravated money laundering in connection with possible embezzlement” of more than $330 million with the assistance of his brother Raja Salameh “to the detriment” of BDL.
The second probe was opened in Lebanon in April following the Swiss revelations. The final probe is entrusted to anti-corruption magistrates at the French national financial prosecutor’s office. Started in France in May, it involves charges of “money laundering and association with an organized criminal group.”
In this vein, it is crucial to examine the real estate wealth of the governor and his entourage to identify “where the funds originating from the embezzlement of public funds in Lebanon are hidden and invested in Europe, in order to freeze and recuperate in the long run potential ill-gotten properties, as well as the revenues generated [from them],” a Lebanese judicial source says.
Another challenge is to ascertain whether the magnitude of Salameh’s wealth can be reasonably explained in relation to his lawful income.
Salameh has insisted that his wealth, estimated at $23 million, was acquired before he took up his post at BDL in 1993, when he was still an investment banker, and that he expanded his real estate holdings through investments in conformity with his duties as governor, who under the Code of Money and Credit should not receive any interest in a private enterprise.
The governor’s office declined a request from L’Orient-Le Jour for comment on the latest developments.
Kosakova could not be reached for comment.
Starting in 2007, just after Salameh recognized Kosakova’s daughter as his child, Kosakova played an active role in acquiring a large real estate portfolio centered around three companies she runs (see graphic above).
The first company, BET SA, is an asset management firm established in Luxembourg in April 2007 that has a share capital of 200,000 euros. The company’s objective is “the acquisition of holdings, in any form whatsoever, in other Luxembourgian or foreign companies, and to manage such holdings, control them and turn them to profits,” as stated in its articles of incorporation.
Gabriel Jean, the chairman of its board of directors, is also the manager of Stockwell Investissement SA, a Luxembourg firm owned by Salameh. BET SA’s sole shareholder is Kosakova.
ZEL, a French civil real estate company set up 10 days after BET SA with a share capital of 10,000 euros, is the second company. The corporate objective is “the acquisition, administration and management, by lease or otherwise, of property and real estate,” its articles of incorporation indicate.
BET SA owns 99 percent of ZEL. The latter is directly associated with Raja Salameh, who ran the company for several years and used to hold 1 percent of its shares, before he transferred them to Kosakova in 2015.
BET SA financed the French real estate company: according to its annual accounts, Bet SA loaned ZEL 21.5 million euros including interest. ZEL acquired many real estate properties, as indicated by deeds of sale that L’Orient-Le Jour reviewed.
In 2007, ZEL purchased an apartment in Paris’ 16th arrondissement worth 2.4 million euros, on Avenue Georges-Mandel, where Kosakova lives. The apartment was bought through Raja Salameh’s own funds (900,000 euros) and a loan from HSBC France in Paris (1.5 million euros).
Two years later, the company acquired a 179-square-meter apartment worth 2.9 million euros on the same block. In 2010, it purchased office space with a total area of 223 square meters at 66 Avenue des Champs-Elysees for 2.5 million euros.
In 2011, ZEL acquired office space with an area of 217 square meters for 2.6 million euros, and in 2014, 222 square meters of office space for 3.7 million euros. The whole acquisitions correspond to the third and fourth floors of the building, and part of the fifth floor.
Kosakova also chairs Eciffice and is its sole shareholder. According to its website, Eciffice is a business center located at 66 Avenue des Champs-Elysees offering workspace and co-working space rental services.
The office rental business generated 1 million euros in revenues in 2019, according to its balance sheets. There is no direct reference to Riad Salameh in these operations.
Whether by coincidence or not, BET SA moved to France in May, a document from the commercial court of Paris, which L’Orient-Le Jour reviewed, shows.
This article was originally published in French in L’Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.