A good part of the $300 million to $500 million that the governor of the central bank of Lebanon is accused of having embezzled, landed on the accounts of 12 Swiss banks, Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung said on Sunday.
These revelations come in the wake of new proceedings initiated Thursday by a Lebanese judge against Riad Salameh, already at the heart of several judicial investigations in Lebanon.
Riad Salameh, his brother Raja and his former assistant Marianne Hoayek are prosecuted for "embezzlement of public funds" and "money laundering," a judicial source told AFP on Thursday. The governor of Banque du Liban (BDL) is already the target of a series of judicial investigations, both in the country and abroad, related to suspicions of money laundering and "illicit enrichment."
He categorically denies all accusations against him. Despite numerous complaints, summonses, investigations and a travel ban issued against him a year ago, he refuses to appear in court.
According to SonntagsZeitung, $250 million were deposited in Raja Salameh's personal account at the HSBC branch in Geneva. Other sums were deposited at UBS, Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, EFG and Pictet, the weekly said. The transactions were carried out through an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands, named Forry Associates and created in 2001, it explains. "Considerable sums" were then transferred to buy real estate in several European countries.
The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office initiated criminal proceedings for serious suspicion of money laundering in October 2020 and the procedure is still ongoing. According to the weekly, millions of dollars in funds have already been frozen, but the federal prosecutor's office does not provide a figure.
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) has also been conducting preliminary investigations into 12 Swiss banks "for months." A spokesperson confirmed to the SonntagsZeitung that proceedings have been initiated against two financial institutions in the "Lebanese context." The names of the banks have not been made public.
In 2021, Lebanon opened an investigation into the assets of Riad Salameh, after a request for assistance from the attorney general in Switzerland in the context of investigations into more than $300 million in fund movements made by the governor and his brother Raja.
Riad Salameh, 72, who became head of the BDL in 1993, is accused by many Lebanese, as well as a large part of the country's political class, of corruption and of being one of the main culprits in the serious economic and financial crisis that Lebanon is experiencing.