Former governor of Banque du Liban (BDL) Riad Salameh, against whom two Interpol arrest warrants have been issued, is suspected of having jumped onto a plane to an Arab country almost a month and a half ago.
This is what Hassan Bazzi, a lawyer and member of the civil society group The People Want to Reform the System, told LBCI television on Monday, more than a month after having requested the opening of a judicial investigation with the prosecutor’s office at the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, Bazzi reiterated his allegations, saying that he had submitted an application to Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun in Baabda, “four or five days” after Salameh’s alleged trip.
“I filed the application on my own behalf, as well as on behalf of our collective and that of MP Elias Jradeh,” he said. He stressed that the latter “joined the case as a deponent, as he had done in other cases relating to the deposits’ return.”
A judicial source confirmed to L’Orient-Le Jour that the complaint was presented to Judge Aoun, who then interviewed Bazzi. The judge then sent notes to the various security services and to the national carrier Middle East Airlines, to check the veracity of Bazzi’s statements and, if necessary, to gather information on the passport used, and the number and destination of the flight that Salameh was said to have taken.
However, more than 40 days have passed, and none of the security services responded, said the same source, who believes that Salameh is “protected.”
Commenting on why the complaint was filed in Mount Lebanon, not in Beirut, Bazzi said that the court concerned has teritorial jurisdiction because Salameh’s house and the airport are located in Mount Lebanon.
It should be recalled that judge Aoun, who is considered to be close to Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)’s circles, targeted Salameh assiduously before his retirement.
According to Bazzi, who cited witnesses he declined to name, Salameh boarded a plane for an Arab country directly from the tarmac. “He did not go through the boarding gate that passengers usually use,” he said, adding that he entered “the business class with four other people, after the economy class passengers had all taken their seats.”
“Three or four suitcases belonging to him were taken on board the same plane, after one of the four people accompanying him had declared their contents to Customs … This suggests that they contained valuable items,” he reckoned.
While the lawyer does not know whether or not Salameh returned to the country, the judicial source replied in the affirmative. When contacted, acting director of General Security, Elias Baissari, and Civil Aviation Director General Fadi El-Hassan did not return L’Orient-Le Jour’s calls to inquire about accuracy of these revelations.
Nevertheless, a source close to Salameh dismissed these claims entirely. Salameh did not leave Lebanon, said this source, asking how he could have done so when his Lebanese and French passports had been confiscated.
In response to Bazzi’s claim that he could have used a passport that some countries grant passports in return for money, the above-mentioned source asserted that such a hypothesis is the stuff of “a science fiction film produced by the detractors” of the former governor.
This article was originally published by L'Orient-Le Jour. Translated by Joelle El Khoury.