Lebanese judge issues travel ban on central bank governor

A Lebanese judge has issued a travel ban on the country’s central bank chief, the state-run state news agency and a lawyer said

BEIRUT – A Lebanese judge on Tuesday issued a travel ban on the country’s central bank governor, the state-run state news agency and a lawyer. The move comes after a corruption lawsuit accused him of embezzlement and negligence during the country’s financial crisis.

The decision is the first judicial action taken by Lebanese authorities against Riad Salameh, who is under investigation for potential money laundering in several countries abroad.

It is unclear whether the ban will be enforced. Salameh, 71, has held the post for nearly 30 years and has the support of most politicians, including the country’s prime minister, despite the country’s devastating economic crisis and banking collapse.

The travel ban was issued by investigating judge Ghada Aoun of the Mount Lebanon region based on an investigation into a case brought by lawyers for an anti-corruption group called The People Wants to Reform the Regime.

Aoun’s decision came as the value of the Lebanese pound fell to a new low on Tuesday, hitting 33,500 against the dollar. The pound has lost more than 90% of its value since the start of the financial crisis, including nearly 10% since the start of the year.

Salame has been touted as the guardian of Lebanon’s currency stability and has been praised for steering the country’s finances through the post-war recovery and turmoil. But he has been closely watched since the small country’s economic collapse began in late 2019, with many experts now questioning his monetary policy.

Haitham Ezzo, one of the lawyers who brought the lawsuit against Salame, said the governor had violated his official duty to protect the country’s currency and banking industry. Salame is also criminally responsible, he said, adding that the lawsuit provides new evidence that he abused his position for personal gain.

“We filed a criminal case against him … we asked to start with a ban on his travel,” Ezzo said. The second demand is to reveal the fate of Lebanon’s vast gold reserves worth billions of dollars.

Salameh is being investigated for potential money laundering and embezzlement in Switzerland, Luxembourg and France. Local media have reported in recent months that Salameh, his brother and an aide were involved in illicit business, including sending money abroad, despite informal capital controls at home.

Ezzo said they had evidence that Salame had rented an apartment on the Champs-Elysees in Paris for the central bank at an overvalued price, accusing him of embezzling the difference.

Salame, who has repeatedly denied making such transfers, said in November that he had requested an audit of transactions and investments during his tenure that showed no public funds had been misused.

Salameh has said he was wealthy before becoming central bank governor in 1993.

Lebanon’s economic crisis – rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement – has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s.

“How can I trust someone who says the pound is doing well. How can I trust someone who says the banks aren’t broke but they are,” Ezzo said.

Last month, Prime Minister Najib Mikati was asked if he planned to remove Salame from office. Mikati replied, “During a war, you don’t change officers.”


Associated Press writer Sarah El Dibb provided reporting.