BEIRUT — European investigators began questioning high-profile witnesses in Lebanon as part of a probe into central bank governor Riad Salameh's wealth, a judicial official told AFP Monday.
France, Germany and Luxembourg in March seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to a probe by French investigators into 72-year-old Salameh's personal wealth.
Salameh — who denies wrongdoing and remains in his post despite a travel ban — is also being investigated by Lebanese authorities on suspicion of financial misconduct including possible embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion.
Investigators from the three European countries on Monday questioned Saad Andary, a former central bank vice governor, said the judicial official, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Two Lebanese judges "asked questions on behalf of the Europeans", he said, adding that the investigators will question Lebanese bankers as well as current and former employees of the central bank as part of their probe.
The long-serving central bank chief is among top officials widely blamed for monetary policies that have led to Lebanon's economic crisis, dubbed one of the worst globally in modern history by the World Bank.
The investigators were also scheduled to investigate Khalil Assaf, a former employee at the banking control commission.
However, a source close to Assaf told L'Orient-Le Jour that he will not attend his questioning because he is sick.
The medical certificate he submitted for his sickness was reportedly accepted and the hearing was postponed to a later date.
It will then be up to the Lebanese judges to hear the witness in the absence of the European investigators, who will have left the country by then, according to the source. The decision was taken after consultation between the Lebanese and foreign parties, the source added, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
On Tuesday, the investigators are set to hear Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine and former vice governor Ahmad Jachi as witnesses.
Salameh will not be questioned at this stage of the investigation, the official said.
Last month an official had confirmed to AFP that investigators from the three countries would visit Lebanon in January to conduct investigations into financial affairs linked to Salameh.
Lebanon opened a probe into Salameh's wealth last year, after the office of Switzerland's top prosecutor requested assistance with an investigation into more than $300 million allegedly embezzled out of the central bank with the help of his brother.
In June, a Lebanese prosecutor probing Salameh on suspicion of financial misconduct requested charges be levelled against him based on preliminary investigative findings, a court official said at the time.
The suggested charges include embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, illicit enrichment, tax evasion, fraud and forgery, the official said.
Both Salameh brothers have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.