Lebanon's central bank governor, Riad Salameh, is facing preliminary fraud and money laundering charges based on allegations of using forged bank statements to conceal his wealth, according to French court documents reviewed by Reuters. The revelation of use of fake account statements was disclosed in the documents sent to Salameh by French judicial authorities ahead of a scheduled hearing on May 16. French prosecutors plan to formally name him a suspect and press the preliminary charges during the hearing.
Salameh has refrained from commenting on the accusations regarding the use of fake documents. He has consistently denied allegations of fraud and money laundering, asserting that he is being made a scapegoat for Lebanon's financial crisis that began in 2019.
Salameh's lawyer recently stated that his client had not yet decided whether he would travel to France for the May 16 hearing. French prosecutors, as part of a joint investigation involving authorities from Lebanon and several other European countries, suspect Salameh, 72, collaborated with his brother Raja to divert over $300 million in public funds, some of which was used to purchase properties across Europe.
Both Riad and Raja Salameh have denied any involvement in the diversion of public funds. French and other European investigators, who interrogated Salameh in Beirut last month, believe that the majority of his wealth is derived from the public funds he allegedly diverted.
As part of his response to the accusations, Salameh submitted a 65-page memo provided by Marwan Kheireddine, the chairman of Lebanon's AM Bank, to French prosecutors. The memo included a series of bank statements demonstrating how Salameh's savings had grown from $15 million in 1993 to over $150 million by 2019 "as he capitalized interests," according to one of his lawyers. However, the French court documents reviewed by Reuters indicate that French investigators have determined these bank statements to be counterfeit.
According to the court documents, Salameh "used fake records of bank accounts at AM Bank... provided by Marwan Kheireddine, to justify in a deceitful manner the origin of his properties or revenues," as stated by French prosecutors.
- Marwan Kheireddine's lawyer, Thierry Marembert, has denied any wrongdoing on behalf of his client.
Following Salameh's questioning in Beirut, French prosecutors noted in their written correspondence that "Riad Salameh is not able to justify the different loans and investments that allowed him to increase his wealth by more than 250 million euros (at a minimum) during this period," according to the French court documents.
- Salameh has maintained that his fortune resulted from the prudent management of savings accumulated during his career as an investment banker.
Marwan Kheireddine was interrogated in France earlier this month on suspicion of involvement in a criminal association and aggravated money laundering. He was instructed not to leave the country, and his passport was confiscated.
- Avoid using fake documents or records: Using fake documents or records to conceal wealth or justify financial activities is illegal and can result in serious legal and reputational consequences.
- Be transparent about the source of wealth: Individuals and organizations should be transparent about the source of their wealth and financial activities. This can help to build trust and credibility with stakeholders and regulators.
- Regularly review bank statements and other financial records: Regularly reviewing bank statements and other financial records can help to identify any irregularities or suspicious activities early on, before they escalate into more serious problems.