European team ends questioning of Lebanon Central Bank chief

BEIRUT (AP) — A European legal team on Friday ended two days of questioning of Lebanon’s central bank chief in Beirut in a money-laundering probe linked to the governor.

Several European countries are investigating Gov. Riad Salameh, who in recent years has been charged with corruption-related crimes. Salameh, 72, has been the head of Lebanon’s Central Bank since 1993.

Salameh was questioned for two hours Friday and six hours the day before, Lebanese judicial officials said. The European delegation — with representatives from France, Germany, and Luxembourg — questioned Salameh through a Lebanese judge, acting as a go-between. Under Lebanese laws, the representatives cannot directly question Salameh.

On Thursday, the team asked Salameh about an apartment in Paris’ Champs Elysee rented by the central bank and Forry Associates Ltd, a brokerage firm owned by Salameh’s brother, Raja, on whether the company existed, the officials said. They added that Salameh was “confident” when he responded to the questions in French.

Salameh’s questioning was scheduled to begin Wednesday but he did not show up.

The European team has set April 15 to start questioning the governor’s brother, Raja Salameh and the governor’s associate, Marianne Hoayek, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Salameh, who has repeatedly denied charges of corruption, has not made any public statements since his questioning started this week.

Judge Helena Iskandar, who is representing the Lebanese state in the European questioning, charged on Wednesday Salameh, as well as Raja Salameh and Hoayek, with corruption.

In addition to the European probe, there are other legal proceedings against Salameh underway in Lebanon. In late February, Beirut’s public prosecutor, Raja Hamoush, charged the same three suspects — the governor, his brother and the aide — with corruption, including embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money-laundering and violation of tax laws.

The European delegation is investigating the laundering of some $330 million.

Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The economic meltdown that began in late 2019 is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. More than 75% of the tiny nation’s population of 6 million has been plunged into poverty.

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