European court cases against Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh likely to initiate soon

BEIRUT — Investigators from various European nations have reportedly arrived in Lebanon to extend their inquiries into Riad Salameh, the governor of the country’s central bank, who is suspected of embezzlement and money laundering both domestically and overseas. Salameh’s trial will take place in the upcoming weeks or months at the most, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) citing a European source close to the visiting investigators who are now in Beirut looking for witnesses and looking through bank data.

“2023 is the year in which Salameh’s trial will start,” the OCCRP source said. “Salameh will not be tried in Beirut, this is almost a settled matter. It may be a trial in absentia if he refuses to comply, but he will not be able to avoid being tried in Europe. It is a very important moment.”

Lebanon has seen deep economic malaise for years with skyrocketing inflation. Four out of five Lebanese households live in poverty with unsustainable prices for food and energy. Energy production in Lebanon is not owned by the government but by a handful of oligarchs. Nepotism and corruption of the political and financial elite have brought the country to the brink of collapse, yet they remain in positions of power.

One of those who has been manipulating the levers of power for decades is Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. The Lebanese financial crisis began with the uncovering of a Ponzi-scandal surrounding the Central Bank Governor. The scheme involved loans being repaid or investments being made with borrowed money.

The Syriac Maronite Riad Salameh, head of the central bank since 1993, is currently the subject of financial crimes probes in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland. He is a prominent example of the corruption and impunity of Lebanon’s elite. Hundreds of millions of dollars were smuggled out of the country after the financial crisis and Salameh knows exactly how much, from whom, and to where. The powerful in Lebanon involved in the embezzlement will undoubtedly do all they can to protect him. Although he may be tried, and possibly convicted, in absentia, it is unlikely he will ever be extradited or face trial in Lebanon.

Head of the Lebanese Anti-Corruption Task Force Louay Ghandour said he believes that Salameh will be tried by the European nations which sent their officials and judges to Beirut in connection with current investigations. However, he informed OCCRP that the goal of these cases was to recover the illegal cash for the benefit of their national treasuries rather than to assist in the seizure of the stolen and laundered money. “Lebanon and its people can only benefit from this effort if Lebanon partakes in the trials,” he added.