A French investigating magistrate on Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank chief Riad Salameh, a source close to the case told AFP.
Lebanon’s central bank chief did not attend a hearing in Paris on Tuesday where French prosecutors were expected to press preliminary fraud and money laundering charges against him, Reuters quoted two sources with knowledge of his travel plans as saying.
Riad Salameh, alongside his brother and an assistant, are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the central bank to the detriment of the state.
French prosecutors had set a hearing for him at 9:30 a.m. on May 16, according to court documents seen by Reuters. French prosecutors intend to press the preliminary charges and formally name him a suspect during that hearing.
Two sources with knowledge of his travel plans told Reuters on Tuesday that Salameh had remained in Beirut. Neither Salameh nor his lawyer in Lebanon responded to requests for comment from Reuters.
A senior judicial source said Lebanon’s judiciary was unable to deliver the summons to attend the Paris hearing as it was addressed to Salameh at the Central Bank and he was unavailable to receive it.
Another judicial source said the defense attorneys for the Salamehs and for the central bank chief’s assistant Marianne Hoayek had submitted an objection to Lebanon’s judiciary over the French case, saying France should not be allowed to try a case already being investigated in Lebanon.
The three have been charged in two separate cases in Lebanon. Riad and Raja Salameh have denied diverting public funds and neither Hoayek nor her lawyer have spoken publicly about the charges.
Lebanon’s top public prosecutor said in January that Beirut could delay cooperating with foreign investigations pending progress on the local probes.
Salameh: ‘I will appeal to this decision’
In a statement issued Tuesday, Salameh accused Investigating Judge Aude Buresi of issuing a decision “that constitutes a breach of law,” because the judge “did not observe the legal deadlines stipulated in French law.”
“Therefore I will appeal to this decision,” Salameh announced.
Salameh said the “judge has ignored the United Nations agreement of 2003 and internationally recognized procedures, specifically those applied in the context of international judicial assistance.”
“Is it reasonable for a judge to not comply with international conventions?” Salameh asked.
Salameh also stated that the French investigation is not being done in secrecy as the law states . “It has become clear from the press articles, especially those issued recently on April 21, 2023 via Reuters that press agencies are obtaining, without limitation, the investigation documents,” Salameh declared.
On April 21, Reuters said it had obtained French court documents in which French prosecutors told Salameh they planned to press preliminary fraud and money laundering charges against him, partly based on allegedly forged bank statements used to conceal his wealth.
From all the events accompanying the French investigations, Salameh stated that the “French investigators contradict the principle of presumption of innocence through their selective application of texts and laws.”
He also accused Buresi of “selective application of texts and laws,” and of “choosing the lawyers on behalf of the Lebanese state, which is a violation of the law.”
Salameh concluded by stating that while the investigation in France, which was “triggered by systematic complaints” filed by his “opponents,” is progressing rapidly, the lawsuit he filed in the French courts concerning the Crystal Credit case which is baseless has remained stagnant for three years, “despite his due diligence.”