Disputes in Lebanon over questioning central bank governor


BEIRUT (AP) – A coroner said on Tuesday she could sue the Lebanese police chief, accusing him of preventing security forces from questioning the central bank governor, who is accused of corruption.

Judge Ghada Aoun told The Associated Press that central bank governor Riad Salameh failed to appear for questioning on Tuesday for the fourth time. She claimed the banker defied court orders because he enjoys political protection.

Salameh, who has been accused of corruption and dereliction of duty during Lebanon’s historic economic meltdown, is facing a lawsuit filed by a Lebanese anti-corruption group. The value of the national currency has collapsed, foreign exchange reserves are running low and the heavily indebted government has been unable to agree on an economic stimulus plan.

Many blame Salameh for the financial crisis and blame him for policies that only drove up the national debt and caused the currency to falter. Salameh, 71, has been in office for almost three decades and enjoys the support of most politicians, including the country’s prime minister.

Salameh is also under investigation in several countries including Switzerland, Luxembourg and France for possible money laundering and embezzlement. Local media have reported in recent months that Salameh, his brother and an aide have been involved in illegal transactions, including sending money abroad, despite the informal capital controls imposed domestically.

Aoun ordered Salameh to appear earlier this month. But Salameh dismissed the lawsuit against him as political, saying there was a lack of evidence. It was filed by a group of lawyers known as The People Want to Reform the Regime. Salameh has called for Judge Aoun to be dismissed from the case, accusing her of bias.

Salameh’s case exposed divisions within Lebanese security agencies after a force from State Security, an intelligence branch, went to his home and office to bring him in for questioning, and no one answered when they knocked on the door.

Aoun said she then told the force to break in after he failed to show up for questioning for the fourth time. At that point, she said, members of the internal security forces or the police had warned the State Security agents that they could not enter by force, otherwise “a confrontation” would ensue.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi denied there were divisions within the two security agencies and said both are fulfilling their duties, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Aoun said she sent a formal letter to the head of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Imad Osman, asking for an explanation regarding the incident.

“I have asked for an explanation and am considering filing a lawsuit against him,” Aoun said of Osman. “What he did is considered a criminal offense which authorities are fighting and preventing the execution of a court order.”

ISF later issued a statement saying the force did not stop state security from bringing Salameh in, adding that the force’s mission is only to protect the central bank governor and has no authority to implement official to prevent memoranda.

The statement added that the matter was discussed between Osman and State Security chief Major General Tony Saliba.

The split between the two security agencies reflects the rivalry between the country’s politicians. Osman is believed to be close to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who retired from politics last month and was a key opponent of President Michel Aoun, who supports Saliba.

The judge was also accused of being close to the president. They both come from the same family but are not related.


Comments are closed.