A French investigating magistrate on Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for Lebanon's central bank chief Riad Salameh, a source close to the case said. Salameh, however, accused the investigating Judge Aude Buresi of issuing a decision that breaches the law and will "therefore appeal to the decision."
Salameh earlier failed to appear for questioning by French investigators who want to know how he amassed sizeable assets across Europe, his lawyer said.
French investigators suspect Salameh of building his network of real estate and banking assets with the help of a complex fraudulent financial system and extensive misuse of Lebanese public funds.
Tuesday's hearing would have been an opportunity to press charges against him.
His lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur, told AFP that the summons had been sent too close to the day and was therefore "invalid".
A Lebanese legal source told AFP this week that the authorities there had failed to serve Salameh with the summons, despite four attempts by police to deliver it to the central bank.
After Salameh failed to show Tuesday, the magistrate in charge of the case had the option of issuing a fresh summons, but instead decided to issue an international warrant for his arrest.
Salameh, 72, has rejected the accusations.
Since the start of the year, magistrates from European countries have travelled to Lebanon on three occasions to interview the central banker and his entourage.
At least two people have been charged in connection with the case in France.
The Paris appeals court meanwhile is to examine later this month the legality of seizures by EU countries of some of Salameh's assets.
"One day or another he will be arrested," said William Bourdon, a French activist lawyer who represents two associations among the plaintiffs.
But, Bourdon added, Salameh was benefitting from "systematic obstruction by some Lebanese magistrates, in complete contradiction to their obligations towards France".
Salameh: 'I will appeal to this decision'
In a statement issued Tuesday, Salameh accused Investigating Judge Aude Buresi of issuing a decision "that constitutes a breach of law,” because the judge “did not observe the legal deadlines stipulated in French law.”
“Therefore I will appeal to this decision,” Salameh announced.
Salameh said the “judge has ignored the United Nations agreement of 2003 and internationally recognized procedures, specifically those applied in the context of international judicial assistance.”
“Is it reasonable for a judge to not comply with international conventions?” Salameh asked.
Salameh also stated that the French investigation is not being done in secrecy as the law states . “It has become clear from the press articles, especially those issued recently on April 21, 2023 via Reuters that press agencies are obtaining, without limitation, the investigation documents,” Salameh declared.
On April 21, Reuters said it had obtained French court documents in which French prosecutors told Salameh they planned to press preliminary fraud and money laundering charges against him, partly based on allegedly forged bank statements used to conceal his wealth.
From all the events accompanying the French investigations, Salameh stated that the “French investigators contradict the principle of presumption of innocence through their selective application of texts and laws.”
He also accused Buresi of “selective application of texts and laws,” and of “choosing the lawyers on behalf of the Lebanese state, which is a violation of the law.”
Salameh concluded by stating that while the investigation in France, which was "triggered by systematic complaints" filed by his "opponents," is progressing rapidly, the lawsuit he filed in the French courts concerning the Crystal Credit case which is baseless has remained stagnant for three years, "despite his due diligence.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said on Tuesday that Riad Salameh cannot be arrested or prosecuted in Lebanon unless Interpol issues an arrest warrant against him.