Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm on Wednesday asked State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat to expand investigations into all “suspicious” transfers to foreign banks.
The National News Agency said Najm called on Oueidat to request that the central bank’s Special Investigation Commission provide him with “all the information it has about all the money transfers from Lebanon to foreign banks and not to limit the information to the money that was transferred to Switzerland.”
The minister also said that the probe must tackle all the transfers made as of July 2019 – three months prior to the eruption of the popular uprising.
Lebanon has moved to combat “capital flight” after it emerged that $1 billion has already been transferred out of the country despite restrictions on withdrawals.
In January, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh confirmed that $1 billion had been transferred out of the country despite tight restrictions on withdrawals.
Salameh’s comments came amid suspicions of politically motivated capital flight that are the subject of a probe launched in late December.
“Of the $1.6 billion that was withdrawn (from the Lebanese banking sector) between October 17 and the end of the year… one billion dollars were transferred abroad by Lebanese,” Salameh said in an interview with the France 24 TV news channel.
Since October 17, Lebanon has been rocked by an unprecedented protest movement against an entrenched political class seen as corrupt and incompetent.
The protests coincided with an increasingly crippling shortage of dollars, prompting banks to impose tight restrictions on withdrawals and transfers overseas.
Protesters have accused bankers of complicity with the political class and suspect politicians of transferring funds abroad despite the restrictions and a prolonged local bank closure when protests first broke out.
Salameh said the central bank’s investigation “would focus on the $1 billion,” but that it would “take some time.”
The other $600,000 that were taken out of Lebanese banks during the period in question were capital deposits held by foreign banks, he added.
He noted there had been reports of “politicians, senior civil servants and bank owners” involved in capital flight, but said a probe is necessary to identify those responsible.
A report by the Carnegie think tank in November said that nearly $800 million left Lebanon between October 15 and November 7, when most citizens could not access their funds because banks were closed due to protests.