BEIRUT — Former Banque du Liban governor Riad Salameh's lawyer on Tuesday presented the Court of Cassation with an appeal of state liability against the Beirut Indictment Chamber in the investigation into suspicions of corruption brought against the former BDL chief.
Salameh, who headed the central bank from 1993 until July 31 this year, is also the target of several investigations in Europe. He has denied all accusations of wrongdoing in relation to these probes. Meanwhile, a significant segment of Lebanon's civil society and political actors hold him responsible for the economic crisis in which the country has been mired since 2019.
The proceeding against the state was confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour by Salameh's lawyer. The former head of BDL did not appear for a hearing on Tuesday morning before the Beirut Indictment Chamber headed by Judge Maher Cheaito.
Judge Cheaito tried unsuccessfully to legally notify the former head of BDL of his hearing on Tuesday, according to a source at the Beirut Justice Palace. The Beirut Indictment Chamber therefore proceeded with this notification by posting a notice on the front of the door of the indictment chamber and in front of Salameh's home.
The Beirut Indictment Chamber, headed by Cheaito, is presided over by several judges in rotation during the judicial holidays. Magistrates Mireille Mallak and Sami Soudki have taken their turns in this case.
Salameh's lawyer has therefore lodged three appeals, one against each of the judges who has headed the indictment chamber in relation to the case.
Indictment chamber withdraws itself
The appeal against Judge Soudki had been previously registered with the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation, according to the above-mentioned source. However, the other two appeals, against Judge Mallak and Judge Cheaito, were not initially registered, presumably due to a procedural error, the source explained.
This action by the state, which removed the Indictment Division judges from Salameh's case as soon as it was registered with the clerk's office in the Plenary Assembly of the Court of Cassation, could hamper the investigation.
This court, which is responsible for examining the appeal lodged by Salameh's lawyer, is currently unable to sit due to a lack of quorum.
Four of the court's ten seats remain vacant after the most recent judge retired in March 2022. These vacancies have not been filled due to disagreements over judicial permutations.
"State liability actions, appeals on grounds of legitimate suspicion and the like are, unfortunately, often used to obstruct the course of justice and investigations," asserted Paul Morcos, director of the Justicia law firm, referencing the 20-month paralysis of the investigation into the Beirut port explosion.
"If these appeals are part of the right to defense, they must not be abused," Morcos added, calling for an amendment in the law to restrict the scope of their application.
Salameh's lawyer on Tuesday registered the appeals against Cheaito and Mallak. The Beirut Indictment Chamber subsequently decided unanimously to withdraw itself from the case following Salameh's lawyer's action, according to a judicial source at the Beirut Justice Palace on Tuesday.
Salameh also failed to appear before the indictment chamber on Aug. 9, as he had not been notified. In early August, the indictment chamber decided to summon Salameh after overturning a decision by the first Beirut investigating judge, Charbel Abou Samra, to let the former governor go free following his last interrogation. At the end of the hearing, the magistrate asked Salameh to remain at the disposal of the courts. Abou Samra's decision was appealed by Helene Iskandar, the head of the state's legal department, who filed a civil suit in Salameh's case to protect the interests of the Lebanese state.
The former governor had been questioned for several weeks in connection with charges brought against him by the Lebanese judiciary in February for "forgery, money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax evasion."
In early August, the United States, along with Canada and the United Kingdom, imposed economic sanctions on Salameh and his associates for corruption.