The governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank denied on Thursday that he had made any transfers of the bank’s funds following a probe by Swiss authorities into money laundering and embezzlement.
Gov. Riad Salameh’s statement was released after he was questioned by Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, based on a Swiss investigation for aggravated money laundering in connection with possible embezzlement in the bank.
Salameh also said he was ready for any further questioning.
A Lebanese judicial source has said the probe was looking into $400 million purportedly transferred out of Lebanon, by Salameh, his brother, his assistant and financial institutions linked to the central bank, allegations Salameh’s office has denied.
A judicial source said that Salameh mentioned only “transfers not exceeding 240 millions dollars made since 2002 from personal accounts to fund a company founded with his brother”.
The prosecutor will request the central bank provide the records of these transfers, including the amount and date of each transaction, before it replies to the Swiss attorney general, the same source said.
Salameh said he would be happy to travel to Switzerland to defend himself against any accusations, the source said.
According to Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar daily newspaper, the probe is part of a wider effort spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States to investigate shady dealings by Lebanese officials, including Salameh.
The office of Switzerland’s attorney general said Tuesday it had asked Lebanon for cooperation into a probe it started into possible money laundering and embezzlement at the central bank. It was not clear what prompted the investigation in Switzerland. The Swiss attorney general’s office declined to offer further details.
There were media reports in Lebanon that billions of dollars have left the country after banks blocked transfers abroad. Some media singled out transfers made by Lebanon’s Central Bank governor himself.
Salameh was quick to deny the allegations. “I asserted that no transfers were made from the accounts or the budget of the central bank,” Salameh said in Thursday’s statement.
He added that he reserves the right to pursue legal actions against “those who spread tendentious rumors and defamation that target me personally and the financial reputation of Lebanon.”
Lebanon is facing a crippling financial crisis that was in full throttle last year, when private banks enforced informal capital controls, limiting withdrawals and blocking transfers abroad. The value of Lebanon’s currency tumbled against the dollar amid an unprecedented shortage of foreign currencies. The government defaulted on its foreign debts and began talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package.
Amid the chaos, reports surfaced of capital transfers, including by government officials.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has held Salameh responsible for the currency crash, accusing him of pursuing “opaque” policies that sent the Lebanese pound on its downward spiral against the dollar.
A government-commissioned international audit of the central bank faltered after the New York-based company hired to do it said it was unable to acquire needed information and documents.
Salameh, who has held the central bank post since 1993, has defended his role, alleging a systematic campaign meant to hold him responsible for the country’s financial crisis.