EU team presses on with probe of Lebanon Central Bank chief

BEIRUT (AP) — A European judicial team pressed on with its corruption probe of Lebanon's embattled Central Bank governor on Thursday, questioning one of his aides and summoning his brother for another hearing next week, officials said.

The delegation from France, Germany, and Luxembourg is on its third visit to Lebanon to interrogate suspects and witnesses in an ongoing investigation of Gov. Riad Salameh and associates over several financial crimes and the laundering of some $330 million.

Salameh’s associate, Marianne Hoayek, was questioned for several hours Thursday, two Lebanese officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe. Her questioning is to continue on Friday, they said.

The European team also summoned Raja Salameh, the governor's brother, for questioning next Wednesday after he did not show up at a session earlier this week, citing illness. Next week, the team will question Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who was a close associated for Salameh for years.

The three European governments in March 2022 froze more than $130 million in assets linked to the investigation. Last month, the European delegation questioned Riad Salameh about the Central Bank’s assets and investments outside Lebanon, a Paris apartment owned by Salameh, and Forry Associates Ltd, a brokerage firm owned by his brother. Raja Salameh is to appear before French prosecutors in mid-May.

Separately, France has questioned the chairman of Lebanon’s AM Bank, Marwan Kheireddine, on several charges, including money laundering. Reports in Lebanon say the governor and his associates had used commercial banks to siphon off public money.

The 72-year-old governor has repeatedly denied all allegations against him, insisting that his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and through investments.

Riad Salameh is also being investigated by Lebanese authorities. In late February, Beirut’s public prosecutor, Raja Hamoush, charged Salameh, his brother and Hoayek with corruption, including embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money-laundering and violation of tax laws.

Salameh — who has held his post for almost 30 years — was once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability. However, since Lebanon’s economic crisis erupted in 2019, many have criticized the governor, saying he precipitated the meltdown. The crisis has plunged three-quarters of the Mediterranean country’s population of 6 million into poverty.