Chief of Central Bank faces allegations of money laundering, embezzlement

As Lebanon’s economy craters, powerful leader of Central Bank draws scrutiny

Riad Salameh has controlled Lebanon’s monetary policies for nearly 30 years, and he has been a leading power broker as longtime head of the nation’s Central Bank. But as banks become insolvent and the economy crashes, new scrutiny on Salameh sharpen.

Anticorruption authorities in France and Switzerland have begun investigations into accusations that Salameh has used his position as head of the Central Bank to enrich himself by fraudulent means.

Swiss authorities are investigating allegations of money laundering and embezzlement. And French authorities are investigating whether Salameh’s personal fortune has resulted from abuse of power and financial crime.

According to the New York Times, Salameh’s Central Bank leadership continues relatively unchallenged within Lebanon due to the power he has amassed in both business and political relationships—and the complex intersection of the two within Lebanon. Critics describe Lebanon’s overall system of political and business interconnectedness as rife with corruption.

Allegations by European investigators include moving hundreds of millions in state money from Lebanon into Swiss bank accounts and then laundering it through purchases of high-end real estate in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Through his attorney, Salameh denied all accusations. Anti-corruption organizations have pressed European authorities to investigate allegations. While no timetable for completing the investigations has been set, the accelerating downward spiral of economic and living conditions in Lebanon may add pressure to get answers and accountability.

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