Lebanon Central Bank workers strike after judge raids HQ | News

Beirut, Lebanon – Staff at Lebanon’s central financial institution have begun a three-day strike after a prosecuting choose tried to arrest the bank’s governor.

Choose Ghada Aoun, who authorised a judicial raid on the Lebanon Central Financial institution headquarters in Beirut on Tuesday, has tried greater than as soon as to arrest Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s longtime central financial institution governor, and has overtly accused the nation’s politicians of defending him from prosecution.

Nonetheless, Salameh nonetheless commanded loyalty from his workers, who started their strike on Wednesday in protest at what they known as the choose’s “militia” ways.

Salameh is now being investigated in 5 European international locations, in addition to Lebanon, for potential cash laundering and illicit enrichment.

In Europe, authorities have frozen greater than 100 million euros value of property belonging to Salameh and a handful of associates as they examine the obvious switch of a whole bunch of tens of millions of {dollars} from Lebanon’s central financial institution to a brokerage firm registered to Salameh’s brother.

Aoun has charged Salameh with falsifying the finances of Lebanon’s central financial institution to cover losses.

The choose advised Al Jazeera on Wednesday that she was unsure about whether or not she would attempt to arrest Salameh once more.

Aoun has beforehand tried to execute the warrant on the governor’s personal residence, however to no avail.

“I really feel the folks on the street should react. It’s their cash. I’m dealing with an enormous mafia,” Aoun stated, referring to the politicians she has stated are defending Salameh.

Aoun stated she was first given permission to arrest Salameh from one judicial authority earlier than one other judicial authority revoked it. She entered the central financial institution’s constructing however didn’t enter Salameh’s workplace.

“It’s clear they don’t wish to arrest him,” she stated.

Lebanon’s economic collapse has seen the nation’s forex lose 90 p.c of its worth since 2019, decreasing the month-to-month minimal wage from the equal of $450 to lower than $30 and plunging greater than 80 p.c of the nation into poverty.

Banks have frozen depositors’ accounts with the intention to defend their very own liquidity, robbing folks of their financial savings in a single day.

Earlier this 12 months, Aoun arrested Salameh’s brother, Raja, on embezzlement and illicit enrichment fees. He was finally launched on a bail of $3.7m {dollars}, the very best ever paid in Lebanon.

Fallen status

Salameh, who has been governor of Lebanon’s central financial institution for 3 a long time, was as soon as lauded for insurance policies that appeared to defend Lebanon from world monetary downturns that harmed different international locations.

However because the collapse of the forex, the strategies Salameh himself known as “monetary engineering” have more and more begun to appear like a euphemism for misrepresenting the nation’s monetary scenario.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s workplace launched an announcement on the tried arrest on Tuesday, saying that an investigation into Salameh would solely go ahead if there was a political settlement on naming a brand new central financial institution governor. Salameh’s present time period doesn’t expire till subsequent 12 months.

Paperwork reviewed by Reuters final week disputed earlier claims Salameh had made concerning an audit of the financial institution that had taken place and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Salameh and different financial institution workers have repeatedly refused to offer primary paperwork that might permit firms employed by the Lebanese authorities to carry out a primary audit of the financial institution and its operations.

Salameh has argued that he’s protected by the nation’s banking secrecy legal guidelines. He has additionally beforehand stated he would journey to Europe to reply questions in investigations into his funds there, however has not but finished so.

Whereas Lebanon’s monetary collapse might have appeared sudden, some bankers who labored with Salameh first raised points a long time in the past.

In one of many diplomatic cables launched by Wikileaks from 2007, despatched to Washington by then-US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, there are echoes of all the allegations now being formally investigated.

“Rumored corrupt conduct, a penchant for secrecy and extralegal autonomy on the Central Financial institution, previous closeness with Syrian leaders, unwillingness to reveal the quantity of Lebanon’s web international alternate reserves, and resistance to the oversight of an IMF program,” one of many cables learn.

It goes on to say Salameh’s brother particularly:

“Salameh signed a contract with Canadian agency British-American Banknote for printing the brand new Lebanese forex when be turned BDL Governor within the early nineties. Salameh’s brother, Raja, is concerned within the deal … Raja Salameh earned a fee on the deal then, and continues to earn a fee so far each time new banknotes are printed (as the standard of the paper isn’t good and the brand new forex needs to be changed each few years).”

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