Lebanon imposes travel ban on central bank chief, blocking French arrest warrant

Middle East  Mohamed AzakirReuters
MAY 25, 2023 LISTEN
© Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

A Lebanese judge has banned central bank governor Riad Salameh from travelling, following an Interpol Red Notice filed by France requesting his arrest and extradition so he can be questioned and possibly charged as part of an investigation into his allegedly illicit accumulation of wealth.

French investigators suspect that during his three decades as central bank chief Salameh misused public funds to accumulate assets that have been concealed through a fraudulent financial network.  

He is the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, which is not an international arrest warrant, but it asks authorities to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions.

Salameh has been the target of a series of judicial investigations both at home and abroad on allegations including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud and illicit enrichment, which he denies.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and continues to serve as central bank governor. His mandate ends in July.

Try him in Lebanon

On Wednesday, judge Imad Qabalan questioned Salameh and "decided to release him pending investigation, ban him from travelling, and confiscate his Lebanese and French passports," an official told the AFP news agency, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Activists say the travel ban helps shield Salameh from facing justice abroad, and from potentially exposing others in Lebanon's political class to scrutiny.

Qabalan asked the French judiciary to refer Salameh's file to Lebanon's judiciary, so it can prosecute him.

In February, Lebanon charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of its own investigations.

Other arrest warrant

On Wednesday, Germany also notified Lebanon's general prosecutor that it had also issued an arrest warrant for Salameh, and that it would submit the warrant to Interpol.

In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth $130 million (121 million euros) as part of an investigation into Salameh's wealth.

European investigators have questioned Salameh in Beirut and also heard from his assistant Marianne Hoayek, his brother Raja, a Lebanese minister and central bank audit firms.

Raja Salameh and Hoayek are reportedly due to appear before the French judiciary on 31 May 31 and 13 June, respectively.

(with AFP)