A total of $130 million in Lebanese assets has been frozen by France, Germany, and Luxembourg
Lebanon–While Lebanon suffers from a crippling economic crisis, authorities in three European nations — France, Germany, and Luxembourg – have frozen more than $130 million in assets tied to a money laundering probe, according to a European Union agency.
The three nations’ actions coincide with domestic and European probes into Riad Salameh, the country’s long-serving central bank governor. The crisis, which began in October 2019, is the result of decades of corruption and incompetence, and it has lasted because the country’s political elite has taken no real measures to find a solution.
Eurojust, the European Union’s Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, said the probe is focusing on five people suspected of money laundering. It did not name the five people, but said they are accused of embezzling more than $330 million and 5 million euros ($5.5 million) in public monies in Lebanon between 2002 and 2021.
The assets blocked on Friday are worth 120 million euros ($131.6 million), according to the report. It was unclear whether the case is connected to the investigation of Salameh, who was accused with illicit enrichment and money laundering by a Lebanese judge earlier this month. Salameh’s brother, Raja, has been detained since March 17 on suspicion of corruption. A court in the Lebanese money laundering case ordered the Salameh brothers’ assets to be blocked in Lebanon. Riad Salameh allegedly exploited his brother to purchase real estate in France for about $12 million, according to a Lebanese judge.
According to sources, the central bank contracted Raja Salameh’s brokerage business, Forry Associates Ltd., to manage government bond sales, for which the firm got $330 million in fees. Last November, the governor, who has rejected all allegations of corruption and called them political, stated “not a single penny of public money” was used to pay Forry Associates Ltd. “We can never release information about suspects,” a Eurojust spokeswoman told The Associated Press when approached by The Associated Press.
The primary investigation’s suspects “are presumed innocent unless proven guilty, under to law,” according to Eurojust. According to the report, German court officials seized assets worth more than 35 million euros. Assets worth at least 18.2 million euros and bank accounts totaling 46 million euros were confiscated by French police in Monaco. They also seized a 7-million-euro skyscraper in Brussels. It was reported that roughly 11 million euros had been confiscated from multiple bank accounts in Luxembourg.
Although the figures involved were comparable, a Lebanese banker stated the Eurojust statement “did not present any clue, proof, or fact that the assets frozen are linked or associated in any manner with Forry’s business.” Because he was not permitted to speak to the media, he spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Riad Salameh, who has not been detained, has been in charge of Lebanese finances since 1993, guiding the country through post-war reconstruction and instability. He was formerly hailed as Lebanon’s financial savior, but since the financial crisis began in 2019, he has been under more criticism. He is also being probed for possible money laundering and embezzlement in numerous European countries, including Switzerland and France.