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Germany yesterday joined France in issuing an international arrest warrant for Banque du Liban (BDL) Governor Riad Salameh over alleged corruption ahead of his scheduled hearing with Lebanon’s top prosecutor today. Salameh is already the subject of an Interpol red notice requested by the French judiciary after he skipped a hearing in Paris on May 16. Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat scheduled the hearing on Monday in light of the red notice, which prompted a series of calls for Salameh’s resignation from top government officials. The central bank chief is being investigated in at least five European countries, where he allegedly used embezzled BDL funds to acquire (now frozen) assets worth hundreds of millions of euros. Salameh, his brother Raja and his former assistant Marianne Hoayek, have been charged in a local investigation for money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment. All three have also separately appeared for questioning before a delegation of French, German and Luxembourgian judges that visited Beirut as part of their probe into Salameh. Salameh has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and announced his intention to appeal the red notice.
A landfill in Saida caught fire for the third consecutive day, prompting calls for an investigation into the waste treatment plant and the cause of the blaze. MP Abdul Rahman Bizri (Independent/Saida) called on caretaker Environment Minister Nasser Yassin to dispatch a team to inspect the waste treatment plant and find the cause of the blaze. On Monday, a fire at the same site resulted in the hospitalization of at least three people and forced schools near the landfill to close. Yesterday, firefighters also extinguished fires in Rahbe in Akkar, as well as in Aley, Beddawi near Tripoli, the Bekaa town of Ablah and a wood warehouse in Jbeil. Firefighters have in recent years faced equipment shortages due to the economic crisis.
The Financial Action Task Force’s upcoming report is expected to place Lebanon on a list of countries under special scrutiny for laxity in preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, Reuters reported. A diplomatic source who saw the report ahead of its publication in Bahrain this week told Reuters that “Lebanon is pitching for more leniency” to prevent it from being put on the “grey list.” While the FATF refused to comment on the report ahead of publication, Reuters claimed that Lebanon performed below par on anti-money laundering measures, transparency on beneficial ownership of firms and mutual legal assistance in asset freezing and confiscation. Grey listed countries face a risk of disrupted cash flows, reputational damage, credit ratings adjustments, trouble obtaining global finance and higher transaction costs.
A draft law allowing Banque du Liban to print larger banknotes, including LL500,000 and LL1 million notes, was approved yesterday during a joint parliamentary committee meeting. The parallel market exchange rate has hovered around LL95,000 to the dollar since the start of May, stabilizing below the LL100,000 to the dollar rate that held for a period in April after an all-time high depreciation was recorded a month before. The committees also approved the formation of a subcommittee to study the reduction of the prison year from nine to six months. Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi first introduced the proposition last August amid severe overcrowding in prisons with “79.1 percent of detainees awaiting trial.” The committees also decided to postpone until their next meeting the discussion of a proposal to increase value added tax rates by 3 percentage points and give the proceeds “to the poorest citizens.” In February, dozens of MPs announced they would boycott legislative Parliament sessions until a president is elected. Some of the boycotting MPs appealed a law extending municipality officials’ mandates passed by Parliament on April 16, despite several MPs who did not attend in protest of the session.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Salameh case has had no impact on major European banks’ decisions: ABL”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz