During a visit to Beirut, William Bourdon, the founder of Sherpa, (a French anti-financial crime organization), announced on Wednesday that the trial of Banque du Liban (BDL) Governor Riad Salameh, could commence as early as next year in France.
In May 2021, in collaboration with the Collective Association of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, Sherpa lodged a legal complaint to the Paris financial prosecutor against unnamed individuals allegedly involved in a case of fraud and money laundering.
During a press conference held at the Maison de l'Avocat and organized by the President of the Beirut Bar, Nader Gaspard, and the Bar’s Commission for the Protection of Depositors’ Rights (CPDD), Bourdon provided insights on the ongoing French judicial investigation. He stated that the investigation is progressing fairly rapidly and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Following the completion of the investigation, an order for a referral to the competent court is expected to be issued in 2024.
Bourdon told L’Orient-Le Jour that the change of the investigating judge for the case, with Aude Buresi being replaced by another magistrate, would not slow down the investigation.
Regarding the judicial implications of Salameh’s failure to appear before the French courts — knowing that the BDL chief was prohibited from traveling on May 24 — the trial should proceed with the presence of his lawyers and a judgment would be delivered in absentia, according to Bourdon.
In the event of a conviction, Bourdon explained that the courts would seize the assets (amounting to $120 million), which would then be confiscated. “These confiscated assets would be returned to Lebanon, following the provisions of a French law enacted in August 2021. This law aims to facilitate the restitution of assets to populations who have been impoverished due to the acquisition of illicit assets by individuals holding public positions,” Bourdon said.
Amélie Lefèvre, who was present alongside her colleague, highlighted that the actual recovery of the assets' value is contingent upon the Lebanese government executing projects aimed at enhancing the well-being of the Lebanese population.
In this regard, Karim Daher, the President of CPDD, expressed his disappointment regarding the delayed implementation of a sovereign fund established by Lebanese law 214/2021, specifically designed for the restitution of funds.
Bourdon also told L’Orient-Le Jour that Sherpa was exploring the possibility of lodging a complaint against several Lebanese banks operating in France. He mentioned that the NGO had already taken legal action against the French subsidiary of Bank Audi in late 2022, accusing them of complicity in the fraudulent organization of insolvency.
According to Bourdon, the bank subsidiaries are suspected of manipulating accounting records to conceal substantial capital outflows from Lebanon. Additionally, he stated that Sherpa is preparing to file appeals against public figures, referring to individuals holding public positions who are allegedly involved in illicit financial activities.
“The time is no longer on the side of the state mafia and thugs,” he said.
Bourdon also urged anyone with information useful in the fight against corruption to cooperate with the ALB-Alerte Liban whistleblowing platform.
“Our complaint against Riad Salameh was based on information about his assets gathered on the platform,” he said, stressing the guarantees of anonymity offered to users.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.