European investigators will question Lebanon's central bank chief, Riad Salameh, next month as part of a probe into his and his brother's affairs, a judicial official told AFP on Friday.
Investigators from France, Germany and Luxembourg heard testimony from witnesses in Beirut this week as part of the case of suspected financial misconduct including possible money laundering and embezzlement.
Salameh and his brother Raja both deny any wrongdoing.
The Banque du Liban (BDL) chief, who has held his office for three decades, is widely blamed for monetary policies that contributed to an unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon, but he has dismissed such criticism.
"The European judges will return next month to complete their investigations with 18 financial and banking figures ... including Salameh and people close to him," said an official on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.
First stage of the European prosecutors' mission
Earlier Friday, the Cassation Prosecutor's Office in Lebanon announced that the European judicial delegation had completed the first stage of its mission in Beirut, which started Monday.
In a statement on "the conclusions of the first part of the European delegation's mission" in Lebanon, the Prosecutor's Office said it had "finished on Friday to provide the legal assistance requested by France, Germany and Luxembourg, in the context of an investigation on monetary transfers to these countries."
The statement then goes over the details of the cooperation between the judicial systems of the three European countries and Lebanon.
A first meeting on Monday brought together the public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidate; two French investigating judges, Aude Burezi and Serge Tournaire; French general financial lawyer, Quentin Dandoy; the investigating judge in Luxembourg, Martine Kraus; and other magistrates.
Vice governors, directors, bankers
The general lawyer at the Court of Cassation, Emilie Mirna Kallas, heard testimony from several witnesses including two BDL vice-governors, two BDL directors general, bankers in the private sector and an auditor.
The people interviewed were not mentioned by name in the prosecution's statement. However, judicial sources told L'Orient-Le Jour and AFP over the past few days that the people interrogated included former BDL deputy governors Ahmad Jechi and Saad Andari, as well as former minister and current Bank al-Mawared CEO, Marwan Kheireddine.
Press reports also mentioned hearings of Raed Charafeddine, former first deputy governor of BDL from April 2009 to March 2019; Naaman Naddour, director of BDL's International Operations Department; and Raya el-Hassan, chairwoman of the board of directors of BankMed and former minister of the interior.
L'Orient-Le Jour was not able to independently confirm these hearings.
According to four sources familiar with the matter who talked to Reuters, the European prosecutors — who have yet to file any formal charges — suspect the central bank collected commissions from bond buyers and then transferred the funds to Forry Associates, owned by Raja Salameh, the sources said.
Bankers and officials told the visiting European prosecutors that they were not aware the funds had gone to Forry Associates, the four sources said.
Hearings behind closed doors
The hearings were held in Arabic in the presence of interpreters. They lasted five days and took place in the main audience room of the Court of Cassation.
Two court officers, Camelia Berbara and Fatima Mouad, were present to compile the minutes. These documents will be sent through diplomatic channels to the relevant authorities in each country involved.
The investigations undertaken by the European team in Beirut are part of investigations targeting Riad Salameh's fortune, notably for money laundering crimes through the acquisition of real estate in France, Germany and Luxembourg, but also in Belgium and Switzerland.
It was the Swiss prosecutor's office that opened the investigations, investigating suspicious transfers of more than $330 million made from an account at BDL under a brokerage contract signed in 2001 between BDL and Forry Associates Ltd. I
It is unclear why the Swiss judiciary is not involved in the investigation in Lebanon.
As part of the investigation into financial malpractice involving the Salameh brothers, German, French and Luxembourg magistrates also accessed bank statements that reveal money transfers made by Raja through Lebanese banks, Reuters reported this week.