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Europe Investigators to Visit Lebanon in Central Bank Chief Probe

Europe Investigators to Visit Lebanon in Central Bank Chief Probe

European investigators will visit Lebanon next month as part of a probe into the wealth of central bank governor Riad Salameh, a judicial official said on Tuesday.
The long-serving central bank chief, 72, is among top officials widely blamed for Lebanon's unprecedented economic crisis, dubbed one of the worst in modern global history by the World Bank.

"Top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat was informed that delegations including general prosecutors and investigative judges and financial prosecutors from Germany, Luxembourg, France and Britain... will arrive in Beirut between January 9 and 20," a Lebanese judicial official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

In March, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized properties and frozen assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a major operation linked to a probe launched by French investigators into Salameh's personal wealth.

The visit aims to conduct investigations into financial affairs linked to Salameh, the official added, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Authorities in the three European countries notified Lebanon's general prosecutor of their intention to question "Salameh, officials at Lebanon's central bank and the heads of commercial banks", the official said.

The delegations have not requested assistance from the Lebanese judiciary, according to the official.

A source in France close to the case confirmed the upcoming visit.

However, sources at Lebanon’s Justice Palace denounced the move, saying it “constitutes a dangerous violation of Lebanese law …and infringes on its national sovereignty.”

They told Asharq Al-Awsat that “conducting any investigation on Lebanese territory is exclusively within the capacity of the Lebanese judiciary. The law does not allow a foreign authority to investigate any pending file in Lebanon, except by virtue of a judicial writ.”

Lebanon opened a probe into Salameh's wealth last year, after the office of Switzerland's top prosecutor requested assistance in an investigation into more than $300 million which he allegedly embezzled out of the central bank with the help of his brother.

In June, a Lebanese prosecutor probing Salameh on suspicion of financial misconduct requested charges be issued against him based on preliminary investigative findings, a court official said at the time.

Both Salameh brothers have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The central bank chief has remained at the helm despite the probes and Lebanese courts imposing a travel ban on him.
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