Examination of Riad Salameh’s 6-hour Encounter with Judges from Europe and Lebanon

Journalists and citizens crowding around the main entrance to the Palace of Justice, awaiting the arrival of the Governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, were surprised by information that he had become inside the “Adliya”, and they were unable to know the entrance from which he entered, as no one was able to monitor him while entering the building, and therefore it is possible that he was Salama arrived at Adliya in a camouflaged car or a security mechanism, in contrast to the entry of Lebanese and European judges, which was from the main gate.

For the first time, the 72-year-old Salama appears before the judiciary, during his 30 years assuming the position of Governor of the Banque du Liban since 1993 as one of the longest-serving central bank rulers in the world, after dozens of lawsuits besieged him before the Lebanese judiciary and 5 European countries on charges of committing financial corruption crimes, including Bribery, money laundering, illegal enrichment, and tax evasion, as well as suspicions about his involvement in helping Lebanese politicians and sect leaders smuggle their money abroad with the onset of the economic collapse.

96 questions

In the details of Salama’s appearance before European investigators conducting money-laundering investigations through a number of European banks, a judicial source in the Court of Cassation narrates the details of the long judicial day, which began with Salama’s entry on Thursday morning to the hall designated for the State Shura Council on the fifth floor of the Palace of Justice building, and indicates that Salama sat at his table, two meters away from the table, in the middle of which were the first investigating judge in Beirut, Charbel Abu Samra, and the French judge, Aud Borosi, and next to her a German investigator and another from Belgium, in addition to the head of the Cases Authority in the Ministry of Justice, Judge Heliana Iskandar, representative of the Lebanese state, the plaintiff in the file. Salama, and three judges from the commission attended with her as assistants, while his French legal representative, lawyer Pierre Olivier Sur, who obtained an entry permit from the Beirut Bar Association, did not attend.

He revealed that the hearing lasted for 6 hours, interspersed with several breaks, and included 96 questions that Judge Abu Samra asked Salama as a listener and not as an accused, on behalf of the European judges, and most of them were confined to the “Fore Associates” company, the date of its inception and establishment, and its relationship with the Banque du Liban, stressing that Salama was coherent and answered He calmly answered all the questions and gave an extensive explanation and refuted all the suspicions accusing him of money laundering, pointing out that Salama was asked to answer “yes” or “no” to about 30 of the questions that were asked to him, but despite that he asked for expansion and explanation on Some of them.

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He stressed that during the session, there was no direct friction or communication between the European judges and Salama, as all the questions and answers were in Arabic through Judge Abu Samra only, and were translated into French, German and Belgian languages, explaining that the French judge held a coordination meeting on Tuesday with Judge Abu Samra to organize The interrogation session and the mechanism of asking questions.

Referring to the calm and cooperation that prevailed during the long interrogation hours, he revealed that Salama requested several breaks according to the law that allows for a 10-minute break after every hour of interrogation, during which sweets and “cigars” were entered into the hall.

It is noteworthy that Salama was absent from a session that was scheduled for Wednesday, under the pretext that he did not obtain an answer about a memorandum he submitted, in which he considered that “the presence of international judges in Lebanon and the investigation with him with financial files contradicts national sovereignty.” However, the Lebanese judiciary rejected the content of the memorandum, given that the judiciary is carrying out a proxy. European judicial system under the International Anti-Corruption Convention, which Lebanon has signed.

Tour in April

According to the information, the French judge, Aude Bourusi, will leave Lebanon on Saturday, after completing a second hearing round, Friday, for safety, which includes about 90 questions focused on the sources of his personal wealth and financial transfers through personal or family accounts.

The information indicates that the decision of the prosecution against Salameh in France or one of the European countries will be based on the conviction of the French judge, who now possesses extensive data through investigations conducted in Europe and listening to about 11 witnesses during the previous visit of the delegation that took place last February. In addition to a third round, which is expected at the end of next April, when it is expected to hear from Raja Salameh, the brother of the Governor of the Banque du Liban, and his assistant, Marianne Howayek.

The European investigations focus on the relationship between the Banque du Liban and the “Fore Associates” company, which is registered in the Virgin Islands and has an office in Beirut, and its economic beneficiary, Raja Salameh.

Investigators question the role played by the company to purchase treasury bonds and “Eurobonds” from the Banque du Liban by receiving a subscription commission that was transferred to Raja Salameh’s accounts abroad.

The Swiss newspaper “Sonntags Zeitung” reported last month that Salama was accused of embezzling an amount ranging between 300 and 500 million dollars, which he had deposited in accounts in 12 Swiss banks.

Salameh’s resignation

The investigation coincided with the spread of a number of rumors that spoke about Salama’s resignation from his position, in addition to news stating that an arrest warrant could be issued against him while he was under investigation, which was denied by an official source in the Central Bank, stressing that what is being circulated is that Salama submitted his letter of resignation to the prime minister. Caretaker Najib Mikati is incorrect and is within the context of media interference and exploitation of the investigations.

He stressed that Salameh will remain in his position until the end of his term next June, stressing that he will reject any offer to extend his term, and that the issue of appointing a replacement for him is linked to the Lebanese government.

And one of the newspapers announced that “Governor Salama Mikati deposited the letter of resignation with his signature, but without specifying the date, waiting for the appropriate moment to announce it in light of judicial developments.”

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State claim

In parallel with the European lawsuits, the Lebanese state, represented by Judge Helena Iskandar, the head of the Cases Authority at the Ministry of Justice, filed a personal claim against a bank governor and his brother Raja and his assistant Marianne Howayek and everyone who appears in the investigation, according to the claim of the Appeal Public Prosecution in Beirut according to the application paper submitted to Judge Charbel Abu Samra. For crimes of bribery, forgery, money laundering, illegal enrichment and tax evasion. It requested their arrest, the confiscation of their real estate properties, and the freezing of their bank accounts and the accounts of their spouses and minor children, to prevent them from disposing of them in order to preserve the rights of the Lebanese state.

Judge Iskandar explained in a press interview that the prosecution against Salameh has nothing to do with the European judicial representation, pointing out that when the hearings against him by the European investigators are over, the investigating judge sets a date for the hearing in the case of the prosecution against him by the Cassation Public Prosecution.

She pointed out that the Public Prosecution Office at the Court of Cassation conducted investigations by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Judge Jean Tannous, regarding the Governor of the Banque du Liban, his brother, and his assistant, and at its conclusion it submitted a report in which it requested the prosecution of them, and since the Lebanese state is affected by the crimes of bribery, forgery, use of the counterfeiter, money laundering, illegal enrichment, and tax evasion. The prosecution requested seizure of their money and property until the issuance of the indictment.

Judge Iskandar also indicated that “she will look at the file of the European investigations regarding Salameh in order to benefit from it in the case of the prosecution against him in the name of the Lebanese state.” And she emphasized, “She is carrying out her duties as a judge. As for stopping the hand of the Governor of the Banque du Liban from working until the investigations are completed, it is up to the government.”

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