BEIRUT —Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said on Tuesday that Banque du Liban (BDL) Governor Riad Salameh cannot be arrested or prosecuted in Lebanon unless Interpol issues an arrest warrant against him. Mawlawi's comments come after French investigating judge Aude Buresi issued an international arrest warrant for the BDL governor's arrest. Salameh said he will appeal the French judge's decision.
"There is no Interpol arrest warrant for the governor of the BDL so far, only a warrant issued by a French judge. The French state must submit a request to Interpol, which must present Lebanon with a red notice in order to study it," Mawlawi said in an interview with al-Jadeed.
"Lebanon can ask France to prepare an extradition request that must be studied. The extradition of the accused cannot take place after a decree is issued by the Lebanese state," Mawlawi clarified. "We cannot talk about the prosecution or arrest of Riad Salameh in Lebanon because these measures related to Interpol have still not been taken."
Asked about the possible seizure of Salameh's assets, Mawlawi said that this is "a decision that belongs to France."
In Lebanon, several political parties reacted to the decision of the French justice. "The international arrest warrant issued in absentia against Riad Salameh is an important turning point in the fight against corruption," said the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in a statement after its weekly meeting. FPM MP’s also said that "the Lebanese judge [Abu Samra] is shirking his duties to investigate cases that concern the Lebanese whose money was stolen, and refuses to notify Salameh of his summons to France, after the political class tried to give excuses so that the governor does not go to France."
The First Investigating Judge of Beirut, Charbel Abu Samra, tried three times to notify Salameh of his summons to France, but the document was returned to him each time without signature, as Salameh could not be found at the headquarters of the BDL.
The General Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal of Mount Lebanon, Ghada Aoun, who initiated proceedings against the governor, also commented on the decision of the French justice. "The Lebanese justice [indicates] Riad Salameh could not be notified, his place of residence being unknown. Impossible!" she stressed in a tweet. "The response of the European justice intervenes without hesitation: it is an international arrest warrant against Riad Salameh. They are always smart as if their game was not known," criticized the magistrate.
MP Marc Daou (independent/Aley), said that "Riad Salameh must submit his resignation immediately to preserve the institutions of the state."
Salameh is being investigated by a delegation of European judges on suspicion of financial wrongdoing. Along with his brother Raja and former assistant Marianne Hoyek, he is charged with corruption, forgery, money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax evasion. All three individuals denied the charges.