BEIRUT/PARIS: According to French court records seen by Reuters, French prosecutors have informed Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh that they intend to file preliminary fraud and money laundering accusations against him, based in part on allegedly faked bank statements used to conceal his wealth.
The accusation of using forged account statements, which had previously gone unreported, is contained in documents sent to Salameh by French legal authorities ahead of a hearing scheduled for May 16 in France.
During that hearing, French prosecutors want to bring preliminary charges against him and formally charge him.
Salameh refused to comment on his suspected use of forgery. He has frequently disputed allegations of fraud and money laundering, claiming he is being used as a scapegoat for Lebanon’s 2019 financial crisis.
Salameh’s lawyer stated earlier this month that his client had not yet decided whether or not to fly to France for the May 16 hearing.
French prosecutors suspect Salameh, 72, of conspiring with his brother Raja to siphon more than $300 million in public funds, some of which was used to acquire homes across Europe, as part of a collaborative investigation with counterparts in Lebanon and at least four other European nations.
Riad and Raja Salameh have both denied misappropriating public monies.
The majority of Salameh’s riches, according to French and other European investigators who questioned him in Beirut last month, originates from public monies he allegedly misappropriated.
Salameh submitted French prosecutors a 65-page report given by Marwan Kheireddine, chairman of Lebanon’s AM Bank, as part of his rebuttal to the accusations.
According to one of Salameh’s lawyers, the document obtained by Reuters shows a sequence of bank statements that indicate how the governor’s savings increased from $15 million in 1993 to more than $150 million by 2019 “as he capitalized interests.”
However, according to French court documents obtained by Reuters, French investigators concluded that the bank statements were forged.
According to the court documents, Salameh “used fake records of bank accounts at AM Bank… provided by Marwan Kheireddine, to justify in a deceptive manner the origin of his properties or revenues.”
Thierry Marembert, Kheireddine’s lawyer, stated that his client denied any misconduct.
According to French court documents, after questioning Salameh in Beirut, French prosecutors noted that “Riad Salameh is unable to justify the various loans and investments that allowed him to increase his wealth by more than 250 million euros (at a minimum) during this period.”
Salameh has stated that his fortune stemmed from the prudent handling of savings acquired throughout his employment as an investment banker.
Kheireddine was arrested earlier this month in France on charges of criminal association and aggravated money laundering. The banker’s passport was confiscated and he was ordered not to leave the country.