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A delegation of European judges will question Banque du Liban (BDL) governor Riad Salameh’s brother Raja today, after their third visit to Beirut to continue their probe into suspected corruption by the central bank chief, a judicial source told L’Orient Today. The French, German and Luxembourger investigators are also expected to question Riad Salameh’s former assistant Marianne Hoayek later this week and BDL and banking sector officials next week. Riad Salameh is suspected of having embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of commissions from the sale of BDL assets through a Virgin Islands-registered company which lists his brother Raja, as a beneficiary. Several European real estate assets and bank accounts linked to Salameh are suspected to have been funded through embezzled funds. Raja Salameh was released at a historic bail of LL100 billion last May after he was charged and arrested for “complicity with illicit enrichment” following a hearing at a courthouse east of Beirut. Riad and Raja Salameh along with Hoayek face local charges of bribery, forgery and use of forgeries, money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax evasion. The French judiciary last week notified Salameh that they intend to formally name him as a suspect in a May hearing in Paris, on claims that he submitted doctored bank statements provided by AM Bank chairman Marwan Kheireddine who is also a suspect in the case. Kheireddine returned to Lebanon on Sunday. European investigators heard Kheireddine during their first visit to Beirut in January and questioned Salameh as a witness during their second visit in March — which according to Salameh’s lawyer creates an “insurmountable gap” for naming him as a suspect.
A second repatriation convoy to Lebanon from Sudan is assembling in Khartoum while around fifty people who fled the deadly clashes by sea to Saudi Arabia are expected to arrive today at the Beirut International Airport. Caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib yesterday thanked Saudi Arabia for making the evacuation possible, as around fifty people fled from Sudan to Saudi Arabia aboard a Royal Saudi Navy ship. The Higher Relief Council (HRC) said the evacuees will be repatriated from Jeddah to Beirut's international airport "within 24 hours." Since the eruption of heavily armed clashes on April 15, hundreds of people in Sudan have died and tens of thousands have fled the fighting — sparked by a power struggle between 2021 coup co-organizers pitting the Sudanese army against paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces.
The municipality of Feitroun in Mount Lebanon announced a series of measures targeting Syrian refugees, including employment restrictions, a curfew and stricter documentation requirements. The curfew and ban on the use of motorcycles after 7pm and social gatherings aim “to maintain security and public stability,” the municipality said. The municipality also aims to “regulate the workforce for foreigners'' with measures that include requiring business owners to submit the legal papers of employees and forcing refugees to exclusively work in specific sectors, including construction and agriculture. Feitroun authorities checked legal papers and demanded declarations of rent contracts, imposing that any refugee working or renting in the town be declared to the municipality. Restrictions against Syrian refugees have intensified recently and the question of who has access to public spaces has taken a prejudiced turn in recent years. Syrian refugees in Lebanon reported facing discriminatory practices, including “arrests at checkpoints … raids on camps, adoption of stricter movement rules and tensions between host and refugee communities.” Municipalities across Lebanon have previously implemented discriminatory measures targeting Syrian refugees, including curfews and the latest measures come amid increased crackdowns on Syrian refugees, which have led to the arrest of hundreds and the deportation of dozens of people since the start of April.
Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea on Sunday said he is capable of causing a lack of quorum during any upcoming Parliamentary presidential election sessions during which a “candidate of the moumanaa [pro-Iranian axis in Lebanon] can win.” Parliament has yet to set a date for the 12th presidential election session after earlier attempts pitted Zgharta MP Michel Moawad, backed by the LF and its allies, against a slew of blank votes cast by Hezbollah, Amal, the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies. Geagea has repeatedly said he would block the election of the Hezbollah and Amal-backed Marada movement head Sleiman Frangieh. France denied Geagea’s claim that it is supporting Frangieh’s candidacy after the French Foreign Ministry stated that the country does “not have a candidate in Lebanon." Lebanon has been without a president since the end of Michel Aoun’s term on Nov. 1, causing controversy over the caretaker cabinet’s prerogatives and boycotts to legislative Parliament sessions.
The Lebanese Army announced the release of a kidnapping victim who was abducted at gunpoint on Thursday. The army said the kidnappers abducted the Iraqi man from an apartment in Jounieh while posing as security forces members in order to extract a ransom from his family. The man was released following an army search of the kidnappers’ hideout in Sharawneh, Baalbeck. Crime statistics from November 2021 point to a rise in theft and murder compared to pre-crisis levels. Numerous reports emerged of burglars impersonating security force personnel and ransom-motivated kidnappings have been frequently reported.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “They built a house and couldn’t sleep in it”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz