Lebanon receives Interpol arrest warrant for Central Bank Governor
The arrest warrant, according to Lebanon's Interior Minister, will be carried out if the Lebanese Judiciary orders so.
Lebanon's caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi confirmed to Reuters that the country received an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, noting that it will be carried out if the judiciary orders so.
Earlier this week, a French investigating magistrate decreed France's own arrest warrant on Riad Salameh, for establishing a sophisticated fraudulent financial system to appropriate Lebanese public funds during his three decades as head of the central bank to establish his network of real estate and banking assets.
Salameh, who is a dual French-Lebanese citizen, has so far failed to appear before the French court by fortifying himself with Lebanese law, which forbids the extradition of nationals.
French judges, during their presence in Lebanon, had asked their Lebanese counterparts to inform Salameh of his summons to appear before them on May 16, according to European investigations into money laundering and embezzlement cases.
The Lebanese judiciary failed to inform Salameh of his Paris hearing, which made it likely that he refrained from attending the interrogation session that was scheduled for last Tuesday.
The Interpol red notice was issued on Wednesday, Mawlawi said, adding that it was received by the Justice Ministry on Thursday.
"Whatever the judiciary says, we will do," the interior minister said.
It is "necessary" for the governor to step down, he stressed, voicing an earlier statement made by the government's deputy prime minister who called for Salameh's resignation amid the corruption charges.
Mawlawi said that the issue will be discussed on Monday during a meeting of a consultative cabinet, noting however that the country's top officials are already in talks on the matter.
"It's being seriously discussed," Mawlawi said.
This comes in the wake of new lawsuits filed by Lebanese judge Raja Hamoush in March.
Salameh has long maintained his innocence since the case was opened against him in the wake of the Lebanese financial crisis.
In March 2022, the European Judicial Cooperation Unit EuroJust announced that France, Germany and Luxembourg had frozen 120 million euros of Lebanese assets following an investigation targeting Salameh and four of his close associates, including his brother Raja Salameh, on charges of money laundering and "embezzlement of public funds in Lebanon worth more than 330 million dollars and 5 million euros, respectively, between 2002 and 2021.
The long-serving central bank chief is among the top officials largely blamed for Lebanon's catastrophic economic crisis, which the World Bank has labeled one of the worst in recent modern history.
Despite the lawsuits, summons, investigations, and travel ban issued against him in Lebanon, Salameh is still in the position he has held since 1993, making him one of the longest-serving central bank governors in the world. His term is supposed to end in May.