BEIRUT — Banque du Liban (BDL) Governor Riad Salameh appeared Thursday for the first time before a European delegation visiting Beirut as part of investigations into his personal wealth, a judicial official said.
Salameh and his legal team, including a French lawyer, arrived at Beirut's justice palace on Thursday morning and the hearing began soon after, the judicial official told AFP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
On Thursday morning, a heavy military presence was deployed in the area surrounding the Justice Palace in Beirut, the NNA reported.
Salameh appeared Thursday "as a witness" and will not be charged or arrested, a second judicial source told AFP.
The European investigation is looking into allegations of financial misconduct, including possible money laundering and embezzlement.
The European delegation has submitted some 100 questions to Lebanese judge Charbel Abu Samra, who for procedural reasons did the questioning in the presence of the European officials.
The session proceeded "calmly", the judicial source said, adding Salameh had provided "detailed" responses to some 100 questions submitted by investigators and "refuted all suspicions of money laundering".
The hearing ended at 4 p.m.
The hearing will continue on Friday in the presence of the European judges. Salameh will be asked another 100 questions, a judicial source told L'Orient-Le Jour. According to the state-run National News Agency, the hearing session will take place at 10 a.m.
The delegation is expected to leave on Saturday before returning later to question Salameh's brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoayek.
Salameh, 72, is part of the Lebanese political elite widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and which the World Bank has dubbed one of the planet's worst in recent history.
He faces allegations of crimes including embezzlement in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad, with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job.
Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Judge Charbel Abou Samra scheduled a hearing last month after leveling a barrage of charges against Salameh, his brother Raja and Marianne Hoayek. Salameh is accused of embezzling funds from the sale of BDL assets — which according to Swiss media, were placed between a dozen banks in Switzerland — through the brokerage company Forry Associates, which lists his brother Raja as an economic beneficiary.
Salameh’s session was due to take place Wednesday morning but was postponed after Salameh's lawyer submitted an explanatory memo to the Court of Cassation to try to prevent the European judges from attending the session. Abou Samra later rejected this memo.
France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in March last year in a move linked to a French probe into Salameh's personal wealth.
In January, the European investigators interviewed banking officials in Beirut about the transfer of funds to countries where Salameh has significant assets.