Lebanon gets Interpol notice for central bank boss Riad Salameh

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi says he will arrest Salameh if the judiciary instructs him to do so.

Lebanon''s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon October 24, 2017
Lebanon's central bank governor, Riad Salameh, has held the post for nearly three decades [File: Jamal Saidi/Reuters]

Lebanon’s Ministry of Justice has received an Interpol notice issued for central bank Governor Riad Salameh, according to the country’s caretaker interior minister.

Bassam Mawlawi told the Reuters news agency on Friday that he would implement the red notice if the judiciary instructed him to do so.

“Whatever the judiciary says, we will do,” Mawlawi said.

Red notices go out to law enforcement agencies around the world. They seek the location and arrest of fugitives wanted for prosecution or to serve prison sentences.

The notice for Salameh was issued after France put out an arrest warrant for him as part of its investigation into whether the governor embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, an allegation he denies.

Salameh slammed the French move, calling it a violation of the law, and promised to appeal.

The 72-year-old is part of the Lebanese political elite widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019.

He has been the target of a series of judicial investigations on allegations that include fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during almost 30 years on the job.

Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and insists that his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties and investments.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, said many in the crisis-hit country welcomed the news of the arrest warrant “who saw this as a first step in accountability”.

She noted, however, that Salameh is unlikely to be extradited.

“The issue in Lebanon is that the judiciary has long been accused of being politicised and Salameh is a man who enjoys political cover,” Khodr said.

“Lebanese laws also prohibit the authorities from extraditing its nationals – they have to be tried in this country,” she added, citing the case of former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, a Lebanese national who also faced an international arrest warrant.

Calls for resignation

Mawlawi said the Interpol red notice had been issued on Wednesday and Lebanon’s justice ministry had received the notice the following morning.

He added that he believed it was “necessary” for Salameh to resign.

Saade Chami, Lebanon’s caretaker deputy prime minister, also called on the embattled governor to step down on Thursday. Chami, who heads bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund, told The Associated Press news agency that the allegations against Salameh put the government’s credibility at risk and “could threaten the country’s financial relations with the rest of the world”.

Mawlawi said the issue was to be discussed at a consultative cabinet meeting on Monday but was already part of talks among the country’s senior leaders.

“It’s being seriously discussed,” Mawlawi said.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies