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US, UK and Canada sanction Lebanon ex-central bank chief Salameh

Salameh, wanted for alleged financial crimes in several European countries, stepped down at the end of his term in late July.

Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh stands next to stacks of gold bars in the bank vaults in the Lebanese capital Beirut on November 24, 2022
Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh stands next to stacks of gold bars in the bank vaults in the Lebanese capital Beirut on November 24, 2022 - Copyright AFP Fabrice COFFRINI
Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh stands next to stacks of gold bars in the bank vaults in the Lebanese capital Beirut on November 24, 2022 - Copyright AFP Fabrice COFFRINI

The US Treasury announced coordinated sanctions with Canada and Britain on Thursday against Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s longtime central bank chief, who recently left office without a successor.

Salameh, wanted for alleged financial crimes in several European countries, stepped down at the end of his term in late July after three decades in the post.

The 73-year-old’s “corrupt and unlawful actions have contributed to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon”, the US Treasury department said in a statement, adding that its action had been coordinated with Britain and Canada.

“Salameh abused his position of power, likely in violation of Lebanese law, to enrich himself and his associates by funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars through layered shell companies to invest in European real estate,” the statement said.

US sanctions were also imposed against his brother, son, former assistant and ex-partner.

They effectively freeze any assets of Salameh and those associates based there and prohibit transactions between them and US citizens or businesses.

The statement made clear the sanctions do not apply to the Lebanese central bank.

The US, British and Canadian sanctions target Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh, and his former assistant Marianne Hoayek, while Washington and London also include his former partner Anna Kosakova in their lists.

In addition, the US sanctioned his son Nady Salameh.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the sanctions sent a clear message that the allies “will not tolerate the acts of significant corruption that have contributed to Lebanon’s economic collapse”.

– Lebanese probe postponed –

Britain noted it was the first time London has used its Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions regime — introduced in 2021 to better align its actions with Washington and Ottawa — against individuals in Lebanon.

The Foreign Office added the quartet it had hit with UK asset freezes and travel bans had all played parts “in the diversion of over $300 million” from Lebanon’s central bank.

Salameh is wanted in France and Germany, and Interpol has issued a Red Notice for his arrest, but Lebanon does not extradite its nationals.

A European diplomatic source has told AFP that Salameh is soon to be tried in Paris.

France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($135 million) in March 2022 in a move linked to a probe into Salameh’s wealth.

He was the subject of judicial investigations at home and abroad into allegations including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud and illicit enrichment, charges that he denies.

In February, Lebanon charged him with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of its own investigations.

But also on Thursday, a Lebanese judicial official told AFP that the domestic probe had been suspended — potentially for months or years — after investigating judge Charbel Abu Samra was sued by another judge for failing to arrest Salameh.

Hearings scheduled for Thursday for Hoayek and his brother Raja were also postponed, the official added.

A second judicial official, who is close to Abu Samra, said that “what has happened has no explanation”.

Both judicial officials requested anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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