The Banque du Liban (BDL) governor is facing further judicial setbacks as the Lebanese state took legal action to safeguard its interests in the event of an indictment.
European investigators investigating cases related to Riad Salameh and his associates in their respective countries are also present in Lebanon.
The state’s litigation department, led by Judge Helene Iskandar, filed a complaint against Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh, and former assistant Marianne Hoyek. The complaint accuses them of several crimes including bribery, forgery and use of forgeries, money laundering, illicit enrichment, and tax evasion.
The department urged the immediate arrest of the Salameh brothers and Hoyek, calling for the seizure of their real estate properties and freezing their bank accounts and those of their spouses and minor children.
The complaint was filed to protect the rights of the Lebanese state. Additionally, the department requested that the criminal court in Beirut try the Salameh brothers and Hoyek by issuing an indictment against them.
This recent development was somewhat expected, as judicial sources had already revealed to L'Orient-Le Jour that the litigation department was planning to file a complaint.
It should be noted that the state’s complaint is separate from the proceedings initiated by the Deputy Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal, Raja Hamouche, on Feb.23. The latter case was filed against the Salameh brothers and Hoyek for money laundering, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment before the first investigating judge of Beirut, Charbel Abu Samra.
However, the state’s complaint is distinct and presents a different issue, according to a judicial source, who spoke to L’Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity.
In this case where the state is a civil party, it has the opportunity to seek compensation for damages incurred due to the criminal acts, if the defendants arefound guilty.
However, in cases where the Public Prosecutor’s Office leads the prosecution, the primary objective is to enforce sanctions for committed criminal acts.
Civil party abroad
Judge Iskandar is determined to protect the interests of the state and expressed her intent to file a complaint abroad, according to a high-level judicial source.
The purpose of this complaint is to ensure that, in the event of a conviction, any property confiscated abroad can be transferred to the Lebanese state.
The same source revealed that the French prosecutor, Aude Buresi, recently sent a letter to Judge Iskandar to inquire if the Lebanese government wanted to act as a civil party in France.
The French prosecutor also explained that, if the Lebanese government could not afford legal representation in France, French law allows for legal aid, according to the source. The head of the French Bar Association can appoint a lawyer to represent the Lebanese government without any financial compensation.
In the letter, the source said Buresi emphasized that, if the Lebanese state fails to file a complaint abroad, the two plaintiffs — namely Sherpa, a French NGO that defends victims of economic crimes, and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon — would be entitled to the confiscated assets in the event of a conviction.
The same source revealed that Iskandar informed caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil about Buresi’s letter and stressed the importance of filing a complaint.
However, the minister did not respond to the letter, which was sent after working hours on Wednesday at the Finance Ministry. The same judicial source said the minister is expected to respond on Thursday.
The same juidical source said that, if Khalil fails to do so, Iskandar will take action and accept the assistance of the head of the French Bar Association and proceed to file a civil suit in France.
Iskandar will have to first ask Justice Minister Henri Khoury to conclude a contract with the designated lawyer— a measure that will require a governmental decree.
The lack of response from Khalil is nothing new; he has previously turned a deaf ear to Iskandar’s requests.
Per the same judicial source, Iskandar requested legal authorization from Khalil last month to file a lawsuit in the European countries where Salameh is being prosecuted, but she never received a response.
Iskandar reportedly informed Khalil that, by March 15 , his silence would be considered as a tacit consent, the source added.
Salameh attends hearing session
Salameh arrived at the Beirut Palace on Thursday morning for a hearing in the presence of European judges.
The hearing was originally scheduled to take place Wednesday, but was postponed by the governor’s lawyer who submitted a requestto prevent the European judges from attending the session. Judge Abu Samra rejected the request.
The Salameh brothers are facing accusations of transfer of $330 million to Swiss accounts through the offshore company Forry Associates Ltd., which is owned by Raja Salameh and registered in the British Virgin Islands, as reported by the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.
The newspaper further revealed large sums of the transferred money were used to purchase real estate in various European Union countries. The report also stated that approximately $250 million was deposited into Raja Salameh’s personal account at the HSBC branch in Geneva, while other amounts were transferred to UBS, Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, EFG and Pictet.
The Salameh brothers have consistently denied any wrongdoing since the start of multiple investigations against them, both in Lebanon and several European countries.
When questioned by Reuters on Feb. 23, the BDL governor reiterated his innocence, stating that the accusations do not constitute an indictment and promising to respect the judicial process.
Loss of legitimacy
The growing number of legal proceedings against the BDL governor and his associates comes while Lebanon is grappling with a deepening economic crisis. The Lebanese lira surpassed the LL100,0000-to-the-dollar threshold amid a prolonged presidential vacancy.
This has led to concerns about the role of international pressure in pushing for accountability from a deeply entrenched political class and a central bank governor who thus far been allowed to retain his position.
According to Sami Nader, director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, the European investigations reflects an international desire to hold Salameh accountable, thus delegitimizing his role as governor when he was previously considered untouchable.
Karim Daher, a tax lawyer and chairman of the commission for the rights of depositors at the Beirut Bar Association, said he believes the rejection of Salamh’s lawyer’s procedural request indicates that international pressure has grown strong enough to prevent obstruction of the European investigation.
Daher said he wonders if, based on the Code of Money and Credit — which states that the BDL governor must be removed from office if found guilty of corruption — the Lebanese state’s complaint necessitates “the suspension of the central bank’s governor, pending a judgment.”
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.
The Banque du Liban (BDL) governor is facing further judicial setbacks as the Lebanese state took legal action to safeguard its interests in the event of an indictment.European investigators investigating cases related to Riad Salameh and his associates in their respective countries are also present in Lebanon.The state’s litigation department, led by Judge Helene Iskandar, filed a complaint...