• By Finsok
  • 20 Jan, 2023

  • 6 min read

European delegation completes first round of interrogations in Lebanon

European delegation completes first round of interrogations in Lebanon

Protesters with frozen bank deposits demonstrate outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, January 17, 2023. A European judicial delegation from France, Germany and Luxembourg continues to investigate the head of the country’s central bank and dozens of others on suspicion of corruption. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT (AP) — A European legal team on Friday concluded its first round of questioning of Lebanese bankers and current and former central bank officials in Beirut, Lebanese officials said. The interrogation is part of a money laundering investigation involving the Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon.

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Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The economic crisis, which began in October 2019 and is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class, has plunged more than 75% of the tiny country’s population of 6 million people into poverty.

A European judicial delegation made up of representatives from France, Germany and Luxembourg questioned nine people this week, including current and former central bank employees, as well as heads of several banks in the Middle Eastern country, several Lebanese judicial officials told The Associated Press. .

Officials close to the investigation spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The delegation arrived in Beirut earlier this month to question central bank governor Riad Salameh and more than two dozen others, some of whom were close associates, as part of an investigation into some $330 million in European money laundering.

Last March, authorities in France, Germany and Luxembourg froze more than $130 million in assets related to the investigation.

There were reports that Forry Associates Ltd., a brokerage firm owned by Raja Salama, the brother of the Central Bank Governor, was hired by the Central Bank to sell government bonds, resulting in a $330 million commission for the firm.

The governor, who has dismissed all allegations of corruption as politicized, has previously said that “not a penny of public money” was used to pay the brokerage firm.

Switzerland and Liechtenstein have also filed cases against the governor of Riad Salame on money laundering charges.

On Friday, Lebanon’s chief prosecutor’s office said Lebanese court officials were assisting a European delegation in investigating money transfers in the three countries. He did not provide any additional details.

It is not known when the European delegation will return to Lebanon to continue the investigation and whether it will interrogate the Central Bank Governor himself.

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