BEIRUT —Lebanese caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami has said in a statement that any “authority figure who is accused of crimes should step down,” reiterating that under the current circumstances the caretaker cabinet “should ask for the resignation of Banque du Liban's governor Riad Salameh or decide his immediate resignation” before appointing his successor.
A French judge issued an international arrest warrant against Salameh on May 16, in a case related to corruption and embezzlement.
Following the warrant, Lebanon last week received a red notice against Salameh from Interpol. Salameh is the subject of multiple criminal investigations for financial wrongdoing, in both Lebanon and Europe.
In a statement addressed to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the cabinet, Chami on Tuesday said “the governor of the central bank must be a person above any suspicion, and Salameh is accused of major financial crimes.” Last week, Chami, along with 10 MPs, called on Salameh to resign from his position.
Chami said in his statement that “in light of the latest decision issued by the French judiciary, the allegations against Salameh could jeopardize the credibility of the government and could threaten Lebanon's financial relations with the rest of the world." This includes the International Monetary Fund, with which Chami is leading negotiations aimed at unlocking $3 billion in aid to help steer the country out of a yearslong economic crisis, and European banks.
"It is now necessary that the cabinet ask for Salameh's resignation, in view of national interest. If this doesn't happen, he needs to be suspended or dismissed by the executive power," Chami said.
With Mikati’s caretaker government scheduled to meet Friday, Chami requested that this issue be included in the agenda.
However, the Salameh matter is not among the 72 items listed on the government's agenda for the session.
Chami noted that it is time for cabinet to “appoint a new head of the central bank," arguing that the urgency of the matter could justify such a decision being taken by the cabinet, even given its caretaker status. The cabinet has been serving in a caretaker capacity since it assumed the status following parliamentary elections in May last year.
He also suggested that discussions take place with the various parliamentary blocs not represented in government to “agree on a governor that has the credibility, skills and experience required to manage this very important institution."
In case such an agreement cannot be reached, BDL's "first vice-governor will take on the position until a new governor is appointed," Chami added.
“Saying that Salameh is the only one responsible for the financial crisis in the country is not true, but keeping him in his position while he is wanted by several countries is a deflection of the principles. He still bears a heavy responsibility for the wrongdoings and bad policies of BDL that depreciated the currency,” Chami said in his statement.
After the publication of the French judicial decision against Salameh, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said Tuesday that the governor cannot be arrested or prosecuted in Lebanon if Interpol does not first issue an arrest warrant. One French lawyer said that Salameh, now cast in the role of "fugitive," is in no position to appeal the arrest warrant, which is something he can do only when he is under arrest.
Since 2019, Lebanon has endured a staggering triple-digit inflation rate as the national currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value.
While nearly all merchants have explicit or implicit permission to price their goods in US dollars, many in Lebanon have no access to dollars, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents in poverty.